By John Walker on July 10th, 2013 at 12:00 pm.
In the latest example of a pencil manufacturer being sued for the doodles of a pencil purchaser, the complete buffoons at Putt-Putt are attempting to sue Minecraft for the creations of players in the game. In other news, duuuuuuuuuuhhhhhhhhh.
In Notch’s usual fashion, the legal letter was promptly published online for us all to enjoy. You can do that here. In this remarkable diatribe, they demonstrate no perspicacity whatsoever, seemingly having managed to generate a hefty legal threat without doing even a fraction of a scrap of research. So it is that the owners of a collection of crazy golf courses are trying to sue the creators of a blank canvas.
After boasting about just how famous Putt Putt Golf is, their missive states,
“It has recently come to our attention that Mojang AB has been using, without authorization, our famous Putt-Putt trademarks in connection with your business. A copy of images showing such unauthorized use of our famous trademarks is enclosed for your review.”
Remarkably, these so-called images are in fact a collection of YouTube results in a Google search, showing how people have created their own mini-golf courses in the game and then uploaded footage. None, obviously, shows Minecraft itself containing these very very very famous trademarks, but rather super-imposed text added via video editing software.
Now, there’s one out here for Putt-Putt. Their name is one of those that is in danger of slipping into common usage, a Sellotape, Xerox or Hoover scenario, where they must fiercely defend their trademarks – and been seen to be doing so – lest they lose exclusive rights over the words. Arcane laws state that if you don’t defend your trademarks, they can become public domain, and this is often the reason behind some of the more spurious-seeming writs. (And it really happens: ask Otis about “escalator”, or Thermos about, well, “Thermos”.)
However, while that may be the case, it’s pretty idiotically applied here. Minecraft of course no more contains Putt-Putt trademarks than a box of Crayola crayons contains the works of Disney. While one can see a rationale for cruelly suing the mom-n-pop mini-golf course that calls itself “Putt-Putt Funtimes” to prevent that slip into “genericized trademark”, there’s no justification here, and they’ve made themselves look extremely silly. They go on to say,
“We feel that Mojang AB’s use of the Putt-Putt name has benefited Mojang AB to the detriment of Putt-Putt. Due to the identical nature of the marks at issue, it appears that confusion as to the source and/or sponsorship is unavoidable. Accordingly, we require your prompt written assurance that Mojang AB, and each and every person, agent, and entity affiliated with Mojang AB, will immediately refrain from all use of the Putt-Putt trademark in connection with your business.”
Well, I suppose they could write that letter right now, with nothing changing at all! They of course go on to say that if Mojang doesn’t comply with their “amicable” resolution, they’ll sue them to bits, suggesting they’d seek “damages of a reasonable royalty for Mojang AB’s past infringing use.” Since there has been no infringement, and indeed if anything the players’ use of the product name in their creations could be deemed as healthy advertising for the firm, it wouldn’t seem unreasonable for Mojang to reply with a bill.
Fortunately Mojang are not ones for being bullied, and so I expect Putt-Putt will quietly walk away from their mistake without much fuss. Although it’d be pretty hilarious if they didn’t. Previous equally ludicrous attempts at suing the creators of art media have resulted in humiliation for the pursuers, as was neatly demonstrated back in 2004 when Marvel stupidly tried to sue City Of Heroes for giving players freedom to create their own characters. It was finally abandoned in 2007, after a judge had very sternly told Marvel to stop being such dickwads. It’s likely the same will happen to Putt-Putt if they try to pursue it any further.