EA's recent suit against Zynga for copying The Sims Social in The Ville has the potential to be a precendent-setting case for defining copyright infringement in videogames, perhaps to the aid of indie developers. For Gamasutra, Leigh Alexander spoke with Rutgers law professor Greg Lastowka, who believes EA makes a strong case, despite videogame's lack of court history.
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"When courts analyze video games, they often do so by analogizing them to movies," he explains. "You have appellate judges who are 60 years old; they don't play games, and to them a modern game looks like an animated cartoon. They'll look for a narrative structure or characters that are being copied."
As a result, Zynga is likely to argue that the game's characters and world are determined by the player, and that the game itself is the kind of system or process not covered by copyright law. The screenshots EA shows look so alike in part because in each shot, the character or environment is dressed or colored the same -- those are player choices.
Of course, Zynga is forgetting the lifting of this set of choices from The Sims Social, and instead, blaming the players for coincidental infrindgement.
California's 9th circuit -- notably where this suit was filed -- questions substantial similarities through an analysis of extrinsic features, plus a judgment of whether your average person would be able to tell two products apart. That method of looking at the issue favors EA in this case, Lastowka suggests.
All in all, though, "EA has a pretty strong case," Lastowka opines.
The hope here is that EA will not only protect its property, but make it so indie developers will be able to take on companies like Zynga when they harness a copied idea for market growth.