Marcus Persson, head honcho at Mojang and creator of Minecraft, announced yesterday that Bethesda Softworks, the makers of The Elder Scrolls series and a division of ZeniMax Media, is threatening to sue Mojang over the title of its forthcoming game Scrolls. According to an article over at Kotaku:
"The sign Scrolls exhibit significant visual, aural and conceptual similarities with my principal's trademark The Elder Scrolls," Bethesda's lawyers said, according to a Google Translation of the letter, written in Swedish and Tweeted by Persson today. "These similarities are reinforced by the fact that in the entertainment industry, including the computer games industry it is common practice for goods and services with a common commercial origin to be marketed as characterized by are constructed from a common brand elements. For example, the company Nintendo's world famous Mario series with game titles like Mario Bros. and Super Mario Bros., or company Blizzard's Warcraft series of games titles such as Warcraft Orcs and Humans and the World of Warcraft...."
So it would seem that Bethesda's legal division has decided that Mojang's Scrolls title is just too close to The Elder Scrolls for comfort. In fact, Mr. Persson alleges in the post linked above that Bethesda's lawyers contacted Mojang earlier this year to learn more about the upcoming game, claiming that the title "conflicted with their existing trademark". According to Mr. Persson:
I agree that the word "Scrolls" is part of that trademark, but as a gamer, I have never ever considered that series of (very good) role playing games to be about scrolls in any way, nor was that ever the focal point of neither their marketing nor the public image.
Let's compare and contrast. For those unfamiliar with the series, Kotaku posted a follow-up article explaining just exactly what the eponymous "elder scrolls" are: Essentially, they are a framing device - not exactly part of the story, but an element that sets the story up, "like the fictional book "The Princess Bride" that exists within The Princess Bride." Meanwhile, what about the scrolls in Scrolls? According to the game's website:
Scrolls is Mojang's next game and offers a new and unique game play where you fight to outmaneuver your opponent on the battlefield using the destructive powers in your collection of magical scrolls. Tear your opponent limb from limb with the might of your summoned armies, lay waste to the defenses with the obliterating power of your siege weapons or open up the very skies and let bolts of lightning shower his minions until only ash remains. The road to victory is yours to choose. Obtain the powerful scrolls and decide which ones you will take to battle as you fight to become the mightiest Magician of all.
So while Bethesda's argument appears to be that Mojang's Scrolls title is so similarly-named to their existing trademark The Elder Scrolls that it could cause confusion (and, by extension, that Mojang could profit from Bethesda's trademark), Mr. Persson's argument appears to be that the titles and the games themselves are different enough that the general gaming public should be able to notice they're not the same thing. Further, Persson argues :
The implication that you could own the right to all individual words within a trademark is also a bit scary. We looked things up and realized they didn't have much of a case, but we still took it seriously. Nothing about Scrolls is meant to in any way derive from or allude to their games.
suggesting that he doesn't believe that in trademarking a title an entity should own the trademark to all the words within that title.
This will definitely be an interesting case to watch. Indeed, the games within many franchises are wildly different, and may be held together by little more than a feel and a name - I'm thinking specifically of the Final Fantasy franchise, which doesn't even rely on a central character like Link or Nathan Drake. Square-Enix uses the name "Final Fantasy" to sell what would otherwise be rather dissimilar games (compare Crystal Chronicles to Final Fantasy X). But should Square-Enix have the sole right to the use of the word "Fantasy"?
What do you think? Let us know below.