UK: The Battle Royale Of Gaming Disputes

PUBG Corporation, the South Korean studio behind the hit game PlayerUnknown's BattleGrounds, has recently brought a copyright infringement claim in South Korea against US-based developer, Epic Games – the studio behind the rival game, Fortnite.  The injunction application was filed at Seoul's Central District Court.

In September 2017 Epic Games introduced a battle royale mode to Fortnite and even cited Battlegrounds as an inspiration for the new feature. For those unfamiliar with the genre, a battle royale is a style of competitive play where participants eliminate one another in a bid to be the "last-man-standing". PUBG were vocal in their concerns that Fortnite was replicating Battlegrounds and claimed the titles were very similar too.

Earlier this year, PUBG also initiated copyright and trade mark infringement proceedings against the Chinese developer of Knives Out and Rules of Survival, NetEase. This claim was filed in California. PUBG identified a significant number of game "elements" which they claim infringe their copyright. This includes everything from the very broad mechanics of a battle royale (e.g. a shrinking gameplay zone) to the very specific "Winner Winner Chicken Dinner!" announcement displayed to the victor.

In December 2017, lead designer of Battlegrounds, Brendan Greene, gave an interview to BBC Radio where he was critical of the IP protection afforded to games.  Mr Greene felt that competing games were making a habit of simply lifting aspects from Battlegrounds and concluded that "in movies and music there is IP protection and you can really look after your work. In gaming that doesn't exist yet, and it's something that should be looked into."

It is understandable that Mr Greene may feel this way given copycats on the market. However, IP protection is available for gaming (in the main, in the form of copyright) just as much as any other creative industry. The key issue to bear in mind is that copyright law seeks to protect the expression of ideas rather than ideas themselves. Bringing a claim for non-literal copying, commonly referred to as "look and feel" infringement, is therefore often problematic. The difficulty for game developers is that with underlying code typically hidden from users, a look and feel type of copying claim based on similarities in the user interface may be the best or only available argument to them. However, the gaming industry is at no greater disadvantage with such a claim than other creative sectors.  By way of example, when considering a non-literal copying claim in relation to a novel in Baigent v Random House (the Da Vinci Code Case), the Court of Appeal held that the material alleged to be copied fell on the wrong side of the line between ideas and the expression of ideas and there was therefore no infringement.

The idea/expression dichotomy in copyright law is of particular relevance to computer programs. In the 2001 case of Designer Guild v Russell Williams  Lord Hoffman, in the House of Lords, commented that UK case law concerning the distinction between ideas and the expression of ideas supported two distinct propositions. First – a work may express ideas which are themselves not protected because they are not connected with the literary, dramatic, musical or artistic nature of the work. For example, a manual describing an invention does not grant the author protection for the invention itself (for which a patent would be required). Secord – certain ideas expressed by a copyright work may not be protected because, although they are ideas of a literary, dramatic or artistic nature, they are not original, or are so commonplace as not to form a substantial part of the work. For example, a murder mystery screenplay would not grant the author copyright in the concept of murder mysteries. Lord Hoffman maintained that "the more abstract and simple the copied idea, the less likely it is to constitute a substantial part".

US and UK copyright law share common principles, indeed they both derive from the Statute of Anne. As such, guidance on the UK approach can be found in US case law. In Nichols v Universal Pictures Co US Judge Learned Hand said, in relation to literary works, that it is essential that copyright law protects more than that the literal text "else plagiarists would escape by immaterial variations". In considering a hypothetical play, Judge Hand commented that a plagiarist may appropriate part of the dialogue and the question for the Court is whether the part taken constitutes a "substantial part". It was noted that the position is more troublesome when a plagiarist does not take blocks of texts or particular scenes but instead uses an abstract of the whole.  The Court is faced with the unenviable task of determining at which point, along a spectrum of abstraction, the author is no longer protected else they would be granted a monopoly on an idea. Judge Hand concluded that "nobody has ever been able to fix the boundary, and nobody ever can" – it will depend on the facts at hand.

In the UK there have been very few cases examining look and feel copying of software. Of the cases considered, the UK courts have typically ruled against the copyright holder (Nova v Mazooma for example). However, every case is judged on its own facts and merits, and therefore the industry should be wary of drawing conclusions from such a small data set. In fact, in 2012, a non-literal copying case involving software was successful in the US (the Tetris case).

As the popularity of these titles and games continues to grow, the studios behind them may have an increasing financial incentive to assert their right. Indeed in March 2018, gaming industry market intelligence firm, SuperData, estimated that Battlegrounds and Fortnite had generated combined total revenue of US$229m. These particular cases might well lead to some interesting additional guidance for developers who are considering pursuing claims against imitators, both in the UK and abroad.

As a general point, it is often preferable for both sides of a dispute of this nature to seek to reach a commercial settlement rather than fight the issue in multiple jurisdictions (some of which may result in conflicting outcomes). This is especially true where both sides seek a quick, creative and certain resolution.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Authors
 
In association with
Related Topics
 
Related Articles
 
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Tools
Print
Font Size:
Translation
Channels
Mondaq on Twitter
 
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
 
Email Address
Company Name
Password
Confirm Password
Position
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Accounting
 Anti-trust
 Commercial
 Compliance
 Consumer
 Criminal
 Employment
 Energy
 Environment
 Family
 Finance
 Government
 Healthcare
 Immigration
 Insolvency
 Insurance
 International
 IP
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Litigation
 Media & IT
 Privacy
 Real Estate
 Strategy
 Tax
 Technology
 Transport
 Wealth Mgt
Regions
Africa
Asia
Asia Pacific
Australasia
Canada
Caribbean
Europe
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
U.K.
United States
Worldwide Updates
Registration (you must scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of www.mondaq.com

To Use Mondaq.com you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.

Disclaimer

The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.

General

Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions