Slitherine loses "tens of thousands of dollars" in EA Battlefield dispute

Multiple titles put on hold before strategy publisher settles over copyright issue

Strategy publisher Slitherine has admitted it lost "tens of thousands of dollars" due to a legal dispute with Electronic Arts over the use of the word "Battlefield" in a game title.

The UK publisher had secured a licensing deal with the BBC History department for Battlefield Academy, based on a flash game, and released a PC game aimed at a casual strategy audience.

"It was a big success for us, it was an approachable war game that found an audience outside of our niche gaming fans," Marco Minoli, marketing director at Slitherine, told "We were just about to announce the first add-on when we received a letter from EA's lawyers and at first we laughed."

A month after release in August 2010, Electronic Arts claimed the game was infringing copyright, instantly putting a planned expansion, PSP, Mac, iPad, Xbox 360 and DS versions of the game on hold.

What we learned was copyright infringement is based on how deep your pockets are, not who's right and wrong.

Marco Minoli, Slitherine

"We were caught in the middle because it was a BBC brand. They've been really helpful but the BBC wasn't prepared to start at fight with EA for a minor wargame," he added. "But we couldn't change the name because it was a licence we acquired."

While the issue was debated between company lawyers, production on the series stopped, costing the strategy publisher dearly until a settlement was reached in July this year.

"We decided that for purely financial reasons it was best to reach an accommodation with EA. It caused a lot of problems and has been difficult, we had to rebrand the game entirely. It cost us tens of thousands of dollars and we lost a big commercial opportunity. We missed out on the PSP game, it was already in submission at Sony, but it took so long that now we're trying for the PS Vita instead."

The series has now been renamed BBC Battle Academy, and the company hopes to reignite interest in the game with new demos and add-on Operation Market Garden, but Minoli admits "when you lose momentum like that it's difficult to get back."

He added: "I guess what we learned was copyright infringement is based on how deep your pockets are, not who's right and wrong."

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Latest comments (11)

Patrick Frost QA Project Monitor 6 years ago
This is interesting.... EA have only ever tried to register Battlefield (that word solely) once and it has been rejected.
See TM code M835035

All of the other Battlefield games are registered as a whole title, e.g. "Battlefield 3". So what is EA's legal grounds for the complaint? Or is this the point that the article is making? Is it possible (in the UK) for TM to cross over the different categories?
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My understanding is that EA threatened immediate injunctive action within 7 days unless we changed the name of the game, which was clearly impossible as the game was already released to the market and was a licensed brand from the BBC.
In the event 6 months of protracted negotiations still saw no action from EA. However they continued to threaten further legal action and our legal bill was mounting up fast.
In the end we took the pragmatic decision to negotiate a name change which allowed us to continue to sell the already released products. Regarding your comment on trade marking, irrespective of the rights and wrongs of a trade mark dispute, the general rule is that the guy with the deepest pocket wins.
When we weighed the costs of rebranding the game against the costs of a legal fight with EA we had to be realistic.
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James Prendergast Research Chemist 6 years ago
Copyright really needs a good seeing-to by proffesionals who are not involved in the copyright business. As the laws currently stand, copyright provides too broad and (now even more so given the EU extention to 70 years) too long a hold on words and ideas.

I mean, take a completely different type of copyright case (this current one being another, "i copyrighted a word in a certain market segment and thus own the word): Playmobile sueing people selling dioramas that utilise their products under the pretense of copyright infringement.
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Show all comments (11)
Luigi Fumero Development Director, Playerthree.com6 years ago
It's an interesting story Marco! Especially the part about the PSP version.
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Patrick Frost QA Project Monitor 6 years ago
Sorry to hear that Marco. I hope that everything works out all the same and congrats with getting the title rebranded :-) That's no mean feat in itself!

Out of interest, I found out that Battlefield is actually trademarked by The Brand Consultancy for computer software, CD Roms etc but NOT games. Here is the direct quote:

"Computer software, computer hardware; CD-Roms; magnetic tapes and discs; publications in electronic form; none of the aforesaid goods for use in relation to war games or battles"
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This does seem odd to me: BBC would own the trademark to "Battlefield Academy", and I can't see how EA could have any claim that a game released by the same name would infringe on their trademark. Like was said, guess it just came down to money...
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Harrison Smith Studying Games and Graphics Programming, Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology6 years ago
@Patrick Frost, you can argue that Games files under Computer Software.

Anyways, a bit of bullying here, tho isn't there a rule were that if you dont defend a trademark no matter what, it opens grounds for people to start using it because they aren't defending it. I remember reading something like this from the Bethesda v Mojang over used of the words Scrolls, and people thinking Bethesda a mad going against Mojang.
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Andreas Firnigl senior designer, Cohort Studios Ltd6 years ago
Tim Langdell, meet EA Dice... oh you've met before?
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Rick Lopez Illustrator, Graphic Designer 6 years ago
It doesnt matter what type a criminal you are. If your pockets are deep enough, you avoid jail. Same thing with this. Big companies just sue the crap out of smaller companies and individuals, till they run out of resources and ultimatly getting there way, weather they are wrong or not. Sometimes it makes me think is capitalism really the way, for us to move foward? When nothing matters except how much money you can make of anything, weather its the ground you walk on or even the words you speak or the wardrobe you use in a youtube video? now a days you cant film or say anything cause it might be copyrighted/trademarked and you might have some big corporate entity or some spoiled millionare celebrity suing the living daylights outta you. Every thing you say and do is part of a brand so where is our freedom of expression, when we basically have to pay to express ourselves? Anyway, I got way off track. I just get mad cause this is totally wrong. Lets just go ahead and name a game "War", we will make a franchise out of it and no one can ever use the word "war" in any title in anything EVER again, because we have more money then everyone else, so we can own the word so nobody else can use it. However zynga took the cake with wanting to trademark "Ville". and dont even get me started with this douchbag wanting to tradmark "Edge".

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Rick Lopez on 14th September 2011 3:46pm

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Patrick Frost QA Project Monitor 6 years ago
@Harrison - I think you're missing the important phrase at the end: "none of the aforesaid goods for use in relation to war games or battles"
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Andreas Firnigl senior designer, Cohort Studios Ltd6 years ago
In EA's defence, they are only trying to protect their IP. After all the battlefield brand is of major importance to them and having a smaller studio release a low budget (relatively - no offence intended Marco) product that shares a very similar name and similar themes could go some way to diluting that brand.

On the flip-side of this I'm sure EA and their lawyers could have been more helpful and moved faster to come to some sort of agreement that would have suited Slitherine Software and the BBC better than the final outcome. Hopefully you can get some more coverage of the re-branded IP through this. After all, no publicity is bad publicity.
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