Video game giants to go head-to-head in copyright dispute

Video game publishing giant Electronic Arts is suing its competitor, Zynga. It is alleged that the similarities between EA’s The Sims and Zynga’s The Ville are so blatant that they constitute copyright infringement. The complaint, filed in the District Court for the Northern District of California, alleges infringement in some of the gameplay elements, visual arrangements and animations.

Zynga is no stranger to accusations of copying, with its hit Farmville having been accused of copying a preceding yet lesser known game, myFarm. Its Mafia Wars game was also alleged to have copied substantial parts of the game Mob Wars, which has proved popular on Facebook.

The company has come out defiantly, stating that it doesn’t believe companies should be able to claim ownership over a category or a genre. EA have fired back, however, stating it will be “taking a stand that helps the industry protect the value of original creative works and those that work tirelessly to create them.”

The leading case relating to copyright infringement in video games under English law is Nova Productions Limited v Mazooma Games Limited and others, and Nova Productions Limited v Bell Fruit Games Limited (2006) EWHC 24 (Ch). The Court of Appeal held that individual frames stored in computer memory constituted graphic works but that an animation sequence did not attract copyright protection. It stated that the aspects of the game which were alleged to have been infringing were too general to amount to a substantial part of the game and that making a program which could emulate another without copying the underlying code was not prohibited.

It remains to be seen how the claim for infringement will play out in court, although it is fair to say that Electronic Arts would have an uphill struggle on their hands if claim was to be heard before the English courts. If anything, the claim shows that, for better or worse, sheer marketing power can compete with innovation in the gaming industry.

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