Imagine that Notch is just minding his own business when all of the sudden a creeper appears out of nowhere! Notch tries to get escape it, but fails and becomes trapped in a dirt hovel that he has made for himself. Now imagine that the Creeper is Bethesda and the almost certain explosion that will ensue, is a lawsuit.
Late last week, we learned via Twitter that Bethesda is threatening a lawsuit over the unconfirmed game title “Scrolls.” For those of you not caught up on this recent scurfuffel, Notch (A.K.A Markus Persson), now world famous for his indie-hit Minecraft, is working on a second game that revolves around the use of magical scrolls to summon up spells and armies to face down your opponent.
While it has tentatively been named “Scrolls,” depending on how this Bethesda-induced nightmare turns out, it may end up with a very very different name. The crutch of the matter is that Bethesda is worried people will confuse “Scrolls” with the title “The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim.” Considering the fact that syllable-wise they’re very different titles, I think that’d be hard to do.
Here is the situation from Notch’s perspective: When Notch and company (Mojang Solutions) went through the process of trademarking the title “Minecraft,” they also decided to get a trademark for the title “Scrolls,” just to prevent legal trouble in the future. Ironically, it seems that Notch has fulfilled his own prophecy – he did everything he could to avoid it too:
Out of the blue, we got contacted by Bethesda’s lawyers. They wanted to know more about the “Scrolls” trademark we were applying for, and claimed it conflicted with their existing trademark “The Elder Scrolls”. I agree that the word “Scrolls” is part of that trademark, but… I have never ever considered that series… to be about scrolls in any way, nor was that ever the focal point of neither their marketing nor the public image….
We looked things up and realized they didn’t have much of a case, but we still took it seriously. Nothing about Scrolls is meant to in any way derive from or allude to their games. We suggested a compromise where we’d agree to never put any words in front of “Scrolls”, and instead call sequels and other things something along the lines of “Scrolls – The Banana Expansion”. I’m not sure if they ever got back to us with a reply to this.
Instead, Bethesda decided to reply in what I believe to be a barbarous manner for a company that is held in high regard by many gamers. Instead of litigation outside of the court room, it seems that Bethesda really wants to wring the man for all he’s worth, as Notch continues in his blog, “Today, I got a 15 page letter from some Swedish lawyer firm, saying they demand us to stop using the name Scrolls, that they will sue us (and have already paid the fee to the Swedish court), and that they demand a pile of money up front before the legal process has even started.”
What might Bethesda’s motivation really be for all of this? According to Jas Purewall, a trademarks lawyer well known with within the video gaming industry, his best guess is that Bethesda really does feel that the title “Scrolls” threatens their IP or intellectual property. What’s interesting is his thoughts on how this might play out:
I don’t think this is an immediate slam-dunk for either side. On the one hand, clearly The Elder Scrolls IS the foremost game series to use the word ‘Scrolls’ and a consumer may therefore think that the Mojang game Scrolls is part of the Elder Scrolls series.
On the other hand, the Mojang game Scrolls is reportedly going to be a different game to The Elder Scrolls series and Mojang itself has a good brand profile among gamers, making it arguably less likely that its game would be connected with Bethesda.
Then again, if you just look at the games themselves, both are fantasy themed (one first person RPG, the other a card playing game with RPG elements) so is there a risk of confusion there? As you can see, it’s far from a straightforward yes/no answer (cue grumbles about typical lawyers…)
So what are Notch’s options according to Purewall?
1) Suit himself up some lawyerfolk and fight the good fight.
2) Roll over.
3) Make nice with Bethesda for a large sum of money.
Or, alternatively, he could just hack into Bethesda’s SMP servers and grief their buildings until they concede. I vote number four.
On a tangent – I’ve also thought it would be pretty awesome to have my name copyrighted. Then I could get Sam Elliott’s money because we share the same name. But that wouldn’t be all that sensible, especially considering we spell our names differently.
To be honest, as a non lawyer, I’m not quite sure how it is that Bethesda will win this one. Unless of course, we really can copyright individual words. Until that becomes an eventuality though, it really does seem that Bethesda is pulling at straws here.
Stay tuned for updates!