Copyright battle reveals competitive side of industry
Copyright law is about as much of a headache as anything in the U.S. legal system. When it comes to issues of trademark and the rights to certain terms and concepts, it inevitably gets messy. Such is the case in the current legal battle between King.com, the purveyor of games such as Candy© Crush Saga, and the indie, turn-based Role Playing Game The Banner Saga.
King.com is trying to prevent Stoic Studio, the creators of The Banner Saga, from trademarking its title because, according to King.com, it infringes on their trademark claim to the word “saga.” In addition to this, King.com has also attempted to register the trademark to the term “candy©” as it applies to any mobile game, application and even merchandise.
Understandably, the whole situation is perplexing. The two games, Candy© Crush being a derivative premium-pay puzzle game and The Banner Saga being a turn-based RPG with vikings and giants, couldn’t be more different. So the only real issue that King.com can bring up is that many of its other titles, such as Pet Rescue Saga, also feature the word “saga” in it.
Stoic Studios is in a vulnerable position because it’s a small, independent studio and King.com is a giant company with nearly a billion dollars of revenue to use the full force of the legal system to its heart’s content.
Now, this case doesn’t necessarily mean that The Banner Saga will have to change its name anytime soon. The real headache of this whole circumstance is that King.com, in an effort to stop the copious amounts of candy-related knockoffs (funny considering some folks see Candy© Crush as a knockoff of Bejeweled), has to challenge anyone using the terms to strengthen its own claim with the courts.
So far, its claim to the word “candy©” has some merit. When it comes to using a common term, a company has to prove the validity of its claim in association with its product. For example, Apple Inc. has a right to the usage of the word “apple” as it applies to computers, but not in its usage in another industry.
In this sense, King.com could argue that the association of “candy©” with its title Candy© Crush Saga describes the gameplay, aesthetic and public perception of the title. The use of the term “saga,” however, is a much grayer area. A saga is defined as a “long story of heroic achievement.” In a cruel bit of irony, the term saga is of Norse origin, so The Banner Saga is actually using it in a manner closer to its original meaning.
The word “saga” has hardly anything to do with candy or pet stores or farm heroes; in fact, it’s doubtful anyone has even referred to Candy© Crush Saga as anything other than Candy© Crush. The sad truth is that King.com is in a position to, in an effort to protect its products, go against anyone making use of the term to legitimize its claim.
It’s depressing to think that an independent studio has to be scared of using a term as common as “saga” in its title out of fear of legal retribution from a more powerful company. It’s even more depressing when you realize that a company has to take this path of challenging other companies to actually protect itself from derivative work.
As copyright/trademark laws become more convoluted and confusing, they’ll only inhibit creativity and new works to be successful. This article directly expresses that any and all uses of the “candy©” and is, confoundingly, the rightful trademark of the company King.com. The fact that this is a genuine citation probably speaks to the absurdity of the whole situation in the first place.
Robert Calcagno is a graduate student studying animation. His column, “Weekly Wit,” runs Mondays.