Copyright Claims in Video Game Characters Dismissed in World of Warcraft Case

Gaming behemoth Blizzard Entertainment, makers of the World of Warcraft franchise, suffered a setback when a federal judge threw out the complaint in its copyright infringement case against Lilith Games and co-defendant uCool. The court cited a lack of specificity related to the allegedly infringed characters, and a failure to adequately apprise uCool of which characters in its “Heroes Charge” mobile game were infringing.

The court granted uCool’s motion to dismiss in part because Blizzard “plead no facts demonstrating that any” of the characters uCool allegedly copied “are plausibly copyrightable.” Regarding infringement, the court said Blizzard only made “general allegations” against uCool and failed “to apprise uCool or the Court of which “Heroes Charge” characters infringe which characters from which of Blizzard or Valve’s numerous games…” However, the court’s dismissal was coupled with leave to amend, so Blizzard will be able to amend and potentially cure the cited defects in its complaint.

Why This Case Matters

Blizzard Entm't, Inc. matters because it represents an opportunity for further evolution of the jurisprudence surrounding copyright in characters, regardless of the medium, and comes on the heels of the 9th Circuit’s recent decision in DC Comics v. Towle, where a three-part test for character copyrightability was enunciated, and the venerable Batmobile deemed worthy of copyright protection. The Blizzard Entm't, Inc. court’s opinion is also instructive because it demonstrates the requisite amount of specificity plaintiffs should utilize in their copyright infringement complaints to survive challenges. And finally, the case may have implications for producers of content based on existing copyrighted works (i.e., machinima in the video game realm, or fanfiction).

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