Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Some Legal Odds and Ends

There were a number of court cases (primarily copyright cases) involving video games during the 1970s and 1980s. Reading court cases can be mind-numbingly boring, but the cases sometimes have nuggets of great information, such as production numbers, release dates, and names of company employees.

Recently, I found a few such tidbits in a pair of cases from the era (including a well-known one).

The well-known case is Stern Vs. Kaufman, but buried in the minutia was something I hadn't seen before  that I found interesting. In the case, Stern filed complaint against Omni Video Games for their game Scramble 2, a bootleg of Scramble that was released about a month after Stern's game.
The famous part of the case is that it established an important precedent in the area of video game copyrights.

Rather than registering the game's code as a literary work, Konami had registered a video tape of the gameplay and attract mode as an audiovisual work. To get a copyright on an audiovisual work, it has to be original and "fixed" in a medium of some kind. Omni argued that Konami's copyright wasn't original because the audiovisual display depended entirely on the code, which Konami hadn't registered. It also wasn't fixed because it changed every time you played it. The court didn't buy it, but that's not the interesting part.

In addition to the copyright issue, Omni had actually filed a cross-complaint against Stern for violating their common-law trademark on the name Scramble.

Back in December of 1980, while the game was still in development at Konami and before Stern had even seen it (which they did at a London trade show in January of 1981), Omni president Frank Gaglione ordered ten video game marquees bearing the name "Scramble" from BCA Posters. At the time, they were producing (or had already produced) the bootleg games Space Guerilla, Space Carrier, and Rally-X. Gaglione took five of the marquees, and slapped them on cabinets for these three games (the rest of the cabinet art still referred to the original game title).

Clearly, Gaglione had somehow found out about Scramble, and made a rather transparent attempt to get a trademark on the name. Once again the court didn't buy it, but you've got to admire the nerve of such a sleazy move.

Read the details here:,33

NOTE that this was the later of the two Stern Vs. Kaufman cases.

The second case was this one:

Cinematronics vs. Electronics Sports Research from 1989. This one involves the game World Series: The Season. According to the case, Cinematronics head honcho Jim Pierce met with Roland Colton of Electronic Sports Research in May of 1984 to talk about Colton's concept for his game World Series: the Season and about the possibility of Cinematronics manufacturing it. Accorging to Colton, Pierce signed a confidentiality agreement about the game and only then did Colton explain its "secret design". Pierce told Colton thanks but no thanks - Cinematronics wasn't interested in the game. Then in October of 1985, they released the game on their own without paying Colton a dime.

Colon was able to get an injunction to prevent Cinematronics from showing the game at "a particular trade show in Chicago" (no doubt the AMOA show) but Cinematronics claimed that this violated the "automatic stay provision of the bankruptcy code" (at the time, Cinematronics was in the midst of what some say was the longest bankruptcy case in California history).

Did Cinematronics steal the idea for World Series from Colton? I'd have to do further research to find out but it wouldn't surprise me (BTW, the game was excellent).

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