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Ubisoft sued over Assassin's Creed copyright infringement

Ubisoft sued over Assassin's Creed copyright infringement

Wed 18 Apr 2012 8:43am GMT / 4:43am EDT / 1:43am PDT
LegalDevelopment

John L. Beiswenger claims numerous similarities with his novel, Link

John L. Beiswenger, an American science fiction author, is suing Ubisoft over alleged similarities between his novel, Link, and the Assassin's Creed franchise.

Beiswenger's novel is based on the premise that ancestral memories can be "accessed, recalled, relived and re-experienced" by participants in a radical new scientific process. The suit lists a wide range of similarities, from narrative themes to specific use of individual words.

Link also includes numerous references to assassins and assassinations in relation to the new process. The legal document cites a number of extracts from the book, including this from page 290:

"'If John Wilkes Booth fathered a child after he assassinated Lincoln, and we found a descendant alive today, we could place Booth at the scene and perhaps smell the gunpowder.' 'Ancestral memories?' 'As far back as you want.'"

Other similarities mentioned include the technology used to conduct the memory experiments and, "spiritual and biblical tones, with references made to Jesus and God, the Garden of Eden, and forbidden fruit."

Beiswenger is seeking damages for each product released since Assassin's Creed was established in 2007, including all four games, the guide-books, the comic series, and two trailers.

The suit requests that damages of no less than $1.05 million be awarded to Beiswenger, with that amount rising to $5.25 million if the judge rules that Ubisoft for wilfully infringed his copyrights. It also requests that the judge prevent the release of Assassin's Creed III and all related products.

21 Comments

Andreas Gschwari
Senior Games Designer

556 607 1.1
Well if it was just the up to 5.25 million USD, Ubisoft might be willing to take the hit. The prevention of release of AC3 however is going to be another matter.

Posted:2 years ago

#1

Alex Norris
n/a

6 0 0.0
Doesn't he have no leg to stand on whatsoever? I was pretty sure you can't sue someone simply for having similar ideas to yours when it comes to creating a fictional setting, but I might be wrong.

Posted:2 years ago

#2

Andreas Gschwari
Senior Games Designer

556 607 1.1
I think that depends. If his book/story was published before AC, and there are clear similarities that could have come from his book, then he has a case. That's what will be up to the courts to decide.

If it's generic stuff, he won't have a leg to stand on, but if the allegations of using specific words or phrases are true, then he has a good leg to stand on.

Posted:2 years ago

#3
The book was published well before Assassin's Creed surfaced - by about 5 years. A lot of the similarities seem tenuous, although there are a couple that stand out as unlikely coincidences. I would imagine that Ubisoft has enough legal muscle and money to deal with the threat anyway.

Posted:2 years ago

#4

Chris Madsen

22 10 0.5
Ooohhh this man is gonna be very unpopular just by trying having stopped Assassins Creed 3 xD

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Chris Madsen on 18th April 2012 11:43am

Posted:2 years ago

#5

Morville O'Driscoll
Games Blogger & Journalist

1,517 1,302 0.9
The prevention of release seems a bit strong to me. Surely, if Ubi have a case to answer, a financial award and credit for initial concept in AssCreed 3 would make more sense? Ubi could easily make a case that development costs mean non-release of the game would be unnecessarily harsh, and the harm is already done with the first 3 games and tie-ins.

Posted:2 years ago

#6
Alexander, you're right, but the question is where an idea stops and copying begins.

Am sure Ubi will settle - a couple of million will be nothing to them, especially if they can have some of it paid by the Quebec taxpayer. If I was the writer, I'd settle for a smaller amount of money, royalties of future products (just a few local pennies per unit sold will add up) and a "based on an idea by..." somewhere on the box:)

Posted:2 years ago

#7

Andrew Goodchild
Studying development

1,235 396 0.3
If he's asking for AC3 to be stopped, there may be a good chance this is him aiming for a settlement before it goes to court.

Posted:2 years ago

#8

Antony Johnston
Writer & Narrative Designer

112 18 0.2
Suits like this generally ask for extreme measures for two reasons; one, it implies you have a strong belief in the righteousness of your case, and two, the assumption is that the defendant will meet you halfway. It's kind of like contract negotiations; each party asks for as much as possible, then bargains down until they meet in the middle.

Suits like this are almost impossible to prove one way or another, they inevitably end up in settlement. So if Beiswenger just asked for a bit of cash, Ubi would bargain it down to nothing. Whereas asking for things like the AC3 embargo gives him something to "concede" during negotiations, without losing out on compensation entirely.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Antony Johnston on 18th April 2012 12:11pm

Posted:2 years ago

#9

Harrison Smith
Studying Games and Graphics Programming

75 4 0.1
Isn't it a pretty much known fact at more than 2 people can think of the entire same thing to some degree, take history for example, despite not much contact with each other many cultures designed the bow and arrow, the boat, axe, sword etc, while not to the same specifics the general concept was both the same. Everyone reading this has done this before, in you thought of an Idea then later discovering that the idea already exist despite no initial prior knowledge.

Also how did the Game in any way Damage this guys sale of the books, if anything sales should of improved to some degree, since if you had come off playing AC and read about a book on the same concept, you may be interested in reading it. This is just another reason why I hate the American Suing culture and the demands for compensation, there has be some changes to laws because this guy has basically no grounds that the games damaged his book.

Posted:2 years ago

#10
Historically, its been shown that the same idea tends to develop simultaneously worldwide. It gets a bit mystical, but basically, the moment a idea comes into being
chances are, it spread outwards like a wifi beacon that anyone can tune into.

You can see the effect of this in games, film, animation, books, inventions, next gen tech, nano tech, physics, etc

Posted:2 years ago

#11

Andreas Gschwari
Senior Games Designer

556 607 1.1
@Harrison true enough. However this should not be used as an excuse. If the book was used, then royalties and credit should be given.

Imagine if i would read the latest Deaver novel and write the exact same thing, changing a few details and then just claiming i had never read the original. it's a fine line.

that's what the courts are for. If he is a phoney, Ubisoft will win. If Ubisoft did "borrow" ideas, they'll settle/pay.

I think when it comes to intellectual property the legal system in the US (and the UK) should be used extensively.

Posted:2 years ago

#12

Charlie Moritz
Studying Philosophy with Psychology

19 0 0.0
How can he sue for damages? Surely this would help his book sell? And also why did it take him some 5 years or something after the first Assassins Creed to bring this up? Wanted to see if the franchise would be successful or not I'm guessing!

He'll definitely settle, he just wants money not an actual embargo!

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Charlie Moritz on 18th April 2012 4:49pm

Posted:2 years ago

#13

Steve Peterson
West Coast Editor

108 73 0.7
Copyright law protects the expression of an idea, not the idea itself. Ubisoft could have lifted concepts wholesale from the novel (I have no idea whether they even knew about the novel) and not been in violation of copyright law. Unless Ubisoft used names and whole passages of text taken from the novel, the suit has no basis in law.

This happens all the time with movies, and sometimes a settlement is reached just because it's cheaper and faster than paying lawyers (see Harlan Ellison and Cameron's Terminator for a good example). The suit in this case probably has much to do with the scale of Assassin's Creed's success, improving the odds for some sort of payment to make the whole thing go away.

Posted:2 years ago

#14

Dan Howdle
Head of Content

280 810 2.9
Okay, as someone who is keenly interested in literature and widely read in this genre, I can tell you the idea of ancestral memory as a sci-fi plot mechanic has been done before, and by better writers than Mr Beiswenger. Anyone ever read Children Of Dune? Dune Messiah? Perhaps the late Mr Herbert's estate should join Beiswenger in a class action.

Like Matt H says, a lot of these are quite tenuous (though I personally would extricate the word 'quite'), especially so when you consider there are literally hundreds of thousands of sci-fi novels out there. Is Ubi expected to read them all before setting about creating anything?



There is no such thing as an original concept. Ideas are cheap, and it's how you write it and how you mix it that makes it unique.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Dan Howdle on 18th April 2012 6:02pm

Posted:2 years ago

#15

Jim Webb
Executive Editor/Community Director

2,246 2,228 1.0
I'd have to thoroughly read both works before I can much but aspects such as historical settings and thematic elements cannot be sued over unless it's very blatant.


And Andreas, damn good to see another fan of Deaver on here. New Kathryn Dance novel in June.

Posted:2 years ago

#16
He'll lose. He can claim anything, but he would lose (easily)... but I think Ubisoft wont risk too much in this joke. They will make a deal.

Posted:2 years ago

#17

Shawn Foust
VP - Business Development/General Counsel

2 0 0.0
Injunctions are extremely difficult to get. I believe the standard is a showing of irreparable harm, which I don't expect to see here.

Simple similarity between concepts isn't enough to get over the relevant legal hurdle. I imagine Ubisoft will go for a quick summary judgment (assuming they can't get pleadings kicked out on face value) or give him a token settlement w/o admitting wrong doing.

In any case, I wouldn't worry about AC3 being delayed on the basis of this suit.

Posted:2 years ago

#18

Peter Dwyer
Games Designer/Developer

481 290 0.6
@Charlie

He's sueing for damages because the game makes no reference to his books either in regards to where the concept came from or that there are any books at all.

The time discrepency can be as simple as his not having known about assasins creed until someone else asked was it based on his book because of X, Y and Z elements. At that point he most likely looked at the games and called (rightfully if you look at the whole premise of the books) shinanigans.

The call to stop AC3 will be down to wanting to get paid if they continue the franchise and it's proved to be based on his work. This is what any writer would do.

Posted:2 years ago

#19

Tim Carter
Designer - Writer - Producer

555 292 0.5
But an idea is not just a copyright thing. There can be an implied business relationship.

For example, if Ubisoft met with the guy, or if he applied for a job there and referenced his novel, then it becomes less about copyright and more about business relationship.

Posted:2 years ago

#20

Stefano Ronchi
Indie Game Developer

50 0 0.0
Apologies if this has already been said, but personally I don't care about the sueing -looks like it's all the rage nowadays-, but what I object against is blocking the game. What rubbish: its been years since this franchise began, has he just come out of a cave? It's not even like the whole rocksmith thing -at least that's a new name-, this has been years! Get your money but have the good grace of not blocking the game, I wonder how he'd feel if someone went and blocked the books upon which I suspect he depends for sustenance.

That aside, good luck to Ubisoft on pushing through (imo they'll settle), and here's hoping that AC3 isn't as rubbish as Revelations!

Posted:2 years ago

#21

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