Electronic Arts and Zynga just filed documents to dismiss the case EA filed last year against Zynga alleging that Zynga’s The Ville social game copied EA’s The Sims franchise.Both parties are bearing their own costs, according to the documents.
“EA and Zynga have resolved their respective claims and have reached a settlement of their litigation in the Northern District of California,” a Zynga spokesperson told us, in what she described as a joint statement by the companies.
Aside from the legal costs, what did this lawsuit accomplish?
Well, EA got what it wanted: The Ville is gone. But not because of any legal process. Players roundly rejected the game, and Zynga “sunsetted” it—moving development from the United States to a Zynga studio in India which typically maintains games at low cost. (The game is still limping along in this reduced state.)
EA was also upset that Zynga had hired a bunch of EA executives.
It turns out that Zynga was also upset it had hired a bunch of EA executives.
Two of them mentioned in EA’s lawsuit, John Schappert and Jeff Karp, left Zynga over the course of last year. (A third, Barry Cottle, is still with the company and was recently promoted to chief revenue officer.)
So in a business sense, consider this a Pyrrhic victory for Zynga.
The one big win: By keeping this out of court, Zynga avoided a test of the legal arguments EA hoped to explore about what elements of games can be protected under intellectual-property law.
Copyright for games is very weak. As the Copyright Office writes:
Copyright does not protect the idea for a game, its name or title, or the method or methods for playing it. Nor does copyright protect any idea, system, method, device, or trademark material involved in developing, merchandising, or playing a game. Once a game has been made public, nothing in the copyright law prevents others from developing another game based on similar principles. Copyright protects only the particular manner of an author’s expression in literary, artistic, or musical form.
Material prepared in connection with a game may be subject to copyright if it contains a sufficient amount of literary or pictorial expression. For example, the text matter describing the rules of the game or the pictorial matter appearing on the gameboard or container may be registrable.
That’s a rule Zynga, deemed a “fast follower” in the games industry, has hewed to. And it’s likely a big reason why EA dropped its lawsuit. But EA, in theory, might have been able to break new legal ground and expand the scope of copyright protection for games. So it’s good that Zynga foreclosed that risk by settling.
Update: A previous version of this story referred to The Ville as having been closed. While Zynga has reduced its investment in the game, it is still available to players.
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