Putt-Putt Make Big Sillies Of Themselves Suing Minecraft

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.

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99 Comments »

  1. luukdeman111 says:

    This is probably the most ridiculous piece of news I’ve read this year… It’s hard to imagine someone who thinks it would be a good idea to sue minecraft over absolutely nothing

    • simoroth says:

      I’m pretty sure their $150k a year lawyers in their legal department think that making work for themselves is a rather great idea.

      • Premium User Badge Malibu Stacey says:

        When I see articles like this I wonder if choosing Software Engineering rather than Law was the right choice for my young self.

        Then I remember what complete bellends Lawyers are.

        • Alfius says:

          Hi there,

          I actually am an intellectual property lawyer – no offence taken, haters gonna hate.

          This letter demonstrates well why the world needs lawyers, so hot headed clients don’t go waving threats around without a damned clue as to what they’re talking about.

          Had the senders of their letter actually consulted legal counsel they’d most likely have conducted some, you know, fucking basic research, and advised their client that a cease and desist like this would not only make them look like utter bellends but also leave them open to allegations of malicious threats. If this letter had been sent in England (which is the limit of my expertise I’m afraid) the recipient would be well within their rights to require them to put up or shut up.

          I highly doubt anyone with a shred of legal or IP related expertise had any involvement with this letter. For the most part lawyers prevent this shit from happening in the first place.

          • TsunamiWombat says:

            This – remember Lawyers act as advisory, not executive, for the interests of their clients. So ultimately it is completely up to the client what kind of legal avenues they take, with or against the advice of their attorneys, who are on retainer to help them to the best of their ability. Naturally, a sane individual USUALLY takes a lawyers advice, and public opinion factors more into a large corporations decisions than one would think.

            That being said, this is an American (I think?) company, so they may just be patent trolls thinking they can get a quick buck, or maybe Putt-Putt wants to drum up some publicity for the fact it still exists. There’s no way in hell anyone ever thought this case would go anywhere, that’s for sure, and i’m sure the Putt-Putt legal team advised against this (assuming they have integrity).

            I really feel like lawyers need a hippocratic oath, though.

          • Sparkasaurusmex says:

            Putt Putt has already slipped into common usage. I know Hoover is a brand of vacuum, I know Kleenex is a tissue and Coke is a brand of cola, but before this story I never knew that “putt putt” was even a common noun. Sorry guys, but your name is synonymous with “mini-golf” and is not capitalized nor does it carry one of those ugly “TM” logos. I’ve never seen an official product or anything labeled Putt Putt officially.
            Be fucking proud you’ve become a household name! Oh and BTW, I bet more kids know what a creeper is than what Putt Putt is.

          • ix says:

            Standards of professional conduct in the US are, let us say, a little more lacking in that regard. I’m pretty sure an actual lawyer wrote that.

          • HothMonster says:

            It’s signed by the CEO not a lawyer and specifically says “if you do not agree we will involve legal counsel” so I doubt a lawyer was involved. Maybe they reused and adjusted a template or an old letter from a lawyer.

        • jrodman says:

          How hilariously self-justifying.

          This is the kind of nonsense that pathetic corporate lawyers do. And I mean the letter.

        • Tacroy says:

          Actually, as a software engineer myself, I’m seriously considering going back to school in four or five years to get a law degree focusing in intellectual property and/or patent law.

          Specifically because it seems like lawyers who interact with software as part of their jobs are doing it wrong.

          • Alfius says:

            One of my favourite aspects of my job is combining my technical, commercial and legal expertise and using it all to help our clients achieve their goals. I can highly recommend IP law to anyone who gets a kick out of multi-disciplinary problem solving, we have plenty of biologist, chemists, engineers and physicists at my firm but increasingly we deal with electronics and web technologies so I foresee a future in which people with those skill sets become highly valued in my profession. I think these days we’re tempted to pigeon hole ourselves into restrictive career definitions, we like to think that a ‘techie’ is someone who’s good with computers and poor with people and personal hygiene. The world has moved so far past that sort of thinking, the successful professionals of the future will be people who’re able to apply in depth knowledge to real world problems without having to go through the marketing and PR intermediaries.

          • Inverselaw says:

            I am actually trying to become a patent agent right now. Sadly there doesn’t seem to be many open positions for people starting in the field.

        • Syra says:

          Hi there, also speaking as professional services provider – ignorant people are the real bellends. We consult, we advise, we don’t execute – though lawyers do advocate so that’s something. Thanks. Go do some research!

  2. Kashyd says:

    “However, while that may be the case, it’s pretty idiotically applied here. Minecraft of course no more contains Putt Putt Golf trademarks than a box of Crayola crayons contains the works of Disney.”

    This sentence should be used in a court if it comes to that

    • analydilatedcorporatestyle says:

      A simple demurrer is all that is needed!

  3. Hmm-Hmm. says:

    Wow. Are they that stupid or that desperate? Either way, that’s a good way to create a lot of publicity towards your company. Negative publicity.

    • Steelphoenix says:

      There is no such things as “negative publicity”. Phineas T. Barnum

      The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about. Oscar Wilde.

      • Hmm-Hmm. says:

        Tell that to all the wrongfully accused people. For example.

      • d1a2n says:

        Yeah, all that negative Xbone publicity sure is going to boost sales.

        • thegooseking says:

          To be honest, I wouldn’t be surprised. What they’re saying about it might be bad, but still, everyone’s talking about the Xbone and no-one’s talking about the PS4, which Microsoft PR might well see as a win.

          • fish99 says:

            Yup, everyone is talking about Xbox One ……. and pre-ordering a PS4.

          • MadTinkerer says:

            This is happening. It’s happening so hard that the week of E3 saw Amazon stop PS4 preorders because there were too many. All of our local Gamestops had to stop PS4 preorders. We asked if Xbone preorders were still available. Pre-ordering Xbones was no problem, but we passed on the offer.

            Meanwhile, my boss, someone who isn’t unfamiliar with modern tech but doesn’t keep up with all the news, asked me about the Xbox One that weekend. I didn’t even mention most of the problems, but the first thing I pointed out was that games were going to be linked to individual consoles and that trading games was going to require some kind of authentication. His reply “Well they’re going to have to change their mind about that!” (And what do you know: Microsoft did.) It was too late though: he preordered a PS4 from one of his local stores as soon as preorders were available again.

        • drewski says:

          Apparently the Xbone has more pre-orders than the 360 did.

          I know, I don’t understand people either.

      • Sheng-ji says:

        I wonder if Gary Glitter has a view on these statements?

      • Star_Drowned says:

        Mel Gibson’s career would like a word.

        (“Get The Gringo” was actually not bad!)

      • One Pigeon says:

        Ah Oscar Wilde. The man imprisoned for gross indecency (homosexuality) resulting in his eventual need to change his identity, never returning to the UK or Ireland and dying penniless.
        Not sure if I’d take his advice regarding publicity.

        • LennyLeonardo says:

          I dunno, I think anyone who can have his life story told in brief by a layman (sorry) 113 years after their death has nothing to worry about, publicity-wise.

          • Syra says:

            Well said. Any guy who gets quoted a few thousand times a day internationally a hundred years post, with people talking about his controversial sexuality (oooh gays!) is probably not losing sleep over whether you take his advice or not.

          • One Pigeon says:

            None taken. I was never going to publish the detailed life story of Oscar Wilde in a brief forum post.

            I’m not sure if in 100 years time people will be talking about the world famous legal battle between Mojang and Putt-Putt golf. At the same time I don’t know how much consolation being talked about in 100 years time would have been to a man who could see his life falling to pieces due to what surmounted as bad publicity.

            Syra, I’m not sure of your point as the man won’t be losing sleep (he’s dead) and homosexuality was certainly controversial then, unlike the modern day United Kingdom. Well, apart from in the heads of a few idiots.

            edited for poor grammar, although knowing me that probably didn’t solve anything.

  4. Premium User Badge RedViv says:

    Oh, the paradox of becoming so popular and famous that your handle becomes common in the dictionary.

  5. Premium User Badge Anthile says:

    This looks like a severe case of electronic old men. Thankfully not ruling anything.

    • faelnor says:

      Except possibly the mythical plastic figure city on the molehill.

  6. DanPryce says:

    The best bit is that they copied in Don Mattrick, because why the hell not? He’s important, right?

    • Premium User Badge RedViv says:

      Well he WAS the head of MS gaming back then, with Da Box being the only big console having Minecraft on it.

    • Jazzyboy says:

      Well, everybody knows who he is so he must have some importance to somebody to have been brought this far into the public eye, even if he did screw it up in the end.

  7. Surlywombat says:

    I guess Putt-Putt is something in murica?

    • Arglebargle says:

      Putt Putt is something you do when you can’t think of any actual fun recreation. Though there are doubtless some who can approach it with an absurdist joy.

      Just hunt for Putt Putt golf on youtube….if you dare!

      • Kitsunin says:

        Putt-putt golf is just another word for mini-golf, right?

        I dunno, I think it’s actually pretty fun, but then I haven’t done it in ages, since all the courses I used to be able to go to have long since shut down…

        • jrodman says:

          In fairness to the dumb company sending the letter, I don’t think people use it much as a generic. It’s just by far the most well recognized brand/chain of mini-golf.

          I’ve heard it used as a generic a couple of times in my life, as opposed to say “Kleenex” which is vastly dominant over “facial tissue” or what have you.

          • Kitsunin says:

            I’ve also only heard it a few times too, but I have heard it as a generic term. I never knew there was a company called putt-putt until now; hell, if I made a mini-golf game I might’ve said putt-putt something not realizing it.

            Besides, the name Putt-Putt is stupid to trade mark. It’s literally just the word putt, as in, what the game consists of, repeated an extra time…also, why does Putt-Putt the car exist if it’s such a sacred trademark?

          • Sparkasaurusmex says:

            I have ONLY heard it as a generic term. Never as a brand name or trademark.

          • HothMonster says:

            Yeah I have been using and hearing the term putt-putt for my entire life. I was never aware it was a proper noun. There are(were) lots of mini-golf places by my house, as a kid we would go to them and play some putt-putt. I have never seen or been aware of a Putt-Putt brand mini-gold course.

          • benkc says:

            I had actually thought Putt Putt was just a made-up brand used in some movie or something once. Y’know, for when you’re trying to no do product placement.

    • suibhne says:

      As a generic activity, yes, miniature golf seems to draw crowds. As a company, no, Putt-Putt isn’t much to write home about. All of the mini-golf businesses I’ve seen were indie copies – not a single Putt-Putt-branded site anywhere I’ve been. I honestly didn’t realize the company still existed.

      • frightlever says:

        You can see why they’re kinda sensitive then. Kids aren’t going to miniature golf courses any more because they’re too busy playing Minecraft, or hula hoops, or frisbees or whatever from whatever era people stopped going to crazy golf.

      • drewski says:

        I honestly didn’t realise it was a company as opposed to a different generic name.

        So, er, massive branding success there, Putt Putt.

  8. Premium User Badge Llewyn says:

    Let the Fun Begin!

    Can’t help feeling that perhaps they should have referred it to their legal counsel before sending the letter though. Lawyers need laughs too.

  9. Damn You Socrates says:

    Probably more something to do with the law of trademarks saying you have to take steps to defend them, or you can lose them, rather than any attempt to sue Mojang.

    • John Walker says:

      Thank goodness you were here!

      • Damn You Socrates says:

        Internet lawyering, serious business.

      • Guvornator says:

        John, don’t be to harsh on him/her. I’m sure years of reading about video games has taught them to only read the start on the article, then look for the big score at the end. In which note:

        7/10

        • Tacroy says:

          Finally – completion!

        • The Random One says:

          WHAT KIND OF CRAP SCORE IS THAT WHO PAID YOU WADS OF DORITOS CASH TO GIVE SUCH A LOW SCORE YOU HAVE COOTIES AND YOUR MOM WEARS COMBAT BOOTS

    • suibhne says:

      Maybe you could write some copy about that, and John could helpfully amend the original article with this valuable information.

  10. somnolentsurfer says:

    And from the title I’d thought it was Ron Gilbert and Humongous Entertainment making fools of themselves…

  11. Fred S. says:

    I can hardly wait to see the response from Mojang’s lawyers. You will be keeping us up-to-date on that, won’t you John?

    • Sparkasaurusmex says:

      They will probably challenge them to a game of mini golf to settle the dispute, not realize these are the guys that invented it or something.

  12. laijka says:

    What or who the fuck is Putt-Putt anyway?

    • Guvornator says:

      The McDonalds of Crazy Golf.

      • Baines says:

        No, you can find a McDonalds.

        I haven’t even seen a real Putt-Putt in maybe 20 years, and the last one that I did see was run down even then.

    • Premium User Badge lasikbear says:

      He’s a delightful hard working purple car who has all sorts of adventures!

  13. pakoito says:

    Drawn Together! I have been trying to remember where the DUH! meme came from.

    Good stuff, I may start watching them again.

  14. Guvornator says:

    “It is uncontested that Defendants’ game has a substantial non-infringing use. Generally the sale of products with substantial non-infringing uses does not evoke liability for contributory copyright infringement”

    …to save the the judge time on his summing up. Just copy and paste!

  15. The First Door says:

    Is it breach of trademark if I start signing all my letters ‘Very truly yours, Putt-Putt’? I only ask as I think it’s my favourite way I’ve seen a letter ended in many a month!

    • hotmaildidntwork says:

      Probably best not to. You wouldn’t want your paper or pencil manufacturers getting into hot water!

  16. frightlever says:

    I may be wrong here but didn’t CoH still go on to actively stop people re-creating recognizable Super-heroes from DC & Marvel in-game? Seem to recall Freedom Force running into similar problems, or one of the fan-sites anyway.

    • thegooseking says:

      I’m not sure what the situation was there, but I’m pretty sure it was against the rules even before Marvel sued them. Perhaps Marvel thought that that just wasn’t good enough?

    • Arglebargle says:

      Due to the ongoing court case, City of Heroes made a show of smacking down clones and tribute characters. Once that was (rightfully) bounced out of court, that cautionary zeal sorta went out the windows.

      Characters who were hit with this became generized. I recall one player who kept his Generic 101 style name, (instead of taking the redo), because the number was so low, thus showing his early radicalism.

  17. PopeRatzo says:

    Is all miniature golf Putt-Putt? I seem to recall there being miniature golf places all over the suburbs of Chicago long before I ever heard of “Putt-Putt”.

  18. Runty McTall says:

    Also Barbie! Thank you Aqua (mainly for the music, of course, but also for unshackling “Barbie” and indirectly contributing to one of the best legal judgements ever: “The parties are advised to chill.”)

    • strangeloup says:

      I’d love to see more things like that.

      “The court invites the prosecution to cool their tits.”

  19. solidsquid says:

    Damnit, disappointed now. I was expecting an article about the team behind Putt Putt Goes to the Moon.

    • Fox89 says:

      This is how I learned not to play in the Fireworks factory. Or depending on your point of view, to definitely play in the fireworks factory.

  20. Putts says:

    I love how the notice of infringement was sent on company letterhead, complete with their “Let the fun begin!” trademark at the top.

  21. Ninja Foodstuff says:

    Ah yes, another example of someone coming up with something so ingenius it’s a good thing we have trademark law to protect it.

    When will this trend of trademarking colloquialisms end? “Life’s Good” is trademarked. I even saw “Wonderful™” on a bag of pistachios yesterday. What is the point? Excuse me, “what is the point™”?

  22. brulleks says:

    “Putt Putt: Let the fun begin!”

    Indeed.

  23. GeminiathXL says:

    It’s like…..sueing the paper companies because your trademark was found scribbled onto a piece of their paper……

  24. Shezo says:

    Putt Butt indeed.

  25. mickygor says:

    I have a trademark on Famous Trademarks. They’re infringing on my trademark selling business’s trademark. I might write a cease and desist letter to them.

    • Sparkasaurusmex says:

      I am patenting suing for copyright infringement! That’s my idea now!

  26. darkhog says:

    Registered just to say this: Wat.

  27. rustybroomhandle says:

    That company must be run by President Skroob, always working on his putz.

  28. NotToBeLiked says:

    http://imgur.com/yVh2qUf

    This image was brought to you by Microsoft paint. Please be sure them for a few billion dollars…

  29. cdx00 says:

    I lived nearby a ‘Putt-Putt Golf & Games’ for a good 15 years at least. It closed down about 6 years ago. It was run by a single teenager, reeked of piss constantly, the newest game they had was Time Crisis 2 and everything else was broken. It was a place you took your children for their birthday and they loved it because they were too young to realize it sucks and it was cheap as hell to rent out. I live nearby Dallas, Texas. There are a few more of these establishments nearby, one in Arlington and Hurst. The one in Arlington has a go-kart track, batting cages and miniature golf. The one in Hurst as the same, minus the batting cages. They are both ‘modernized’. They’re not bad but they are outrageously priced.

    Either way, I’m not sure this company even generates enough revenue to fire off such a claim. Oh well. It’ll be disregarded soon

  30. trumad says:

    This is like Disney suing Crayola because my kid drew a picture of Mickey Mouse. Unbelievable that they can be so out of touch…

    • Berzee says:

      Haha, true. One might even say that Minecraft of course no more contains Putt-Putt trademarks than a box of Crayola crayons contains the works of Disney.

  31. DestroyYourEgo says:

    LOVE the Drawn Together “Duh” session! Foxxxy Love forever!