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Back And Forth Cloning Battles With Zynga Continue With New EA Chapter

Originally Published on Techdirt.

Our first introduction with Zynga was back in 2009 when the maker of Mob Wars sued Zynga over its Mafia Wars game. Zynga was accused of copyright infringement and ended up paying a pretty penny. Later on in the year, Zynga turned around and sued Playdom over what it claimed was trademark infringement. Shortly there after Zynga was sued for trademark infringment over the name Mafia Wars. Then last year, Zynga decided to sue a Brazilian company, Vostu, for various claims of copyright infringment and even some claims that the company copied its entire business model. This lawsuit resulted in a very interesting ruling from a US Judge telling Zynga not to enforce its win over Vostu, because the US Judge wanted first dibs on the ruling. Remember this last case, because it is the most important one when reviewing this next lawsuit.

Just last week, word came in that Zynga was being sued yet again over allegations of game cloning and copyright infringement. This time the player doing the suing is none other than EA, the makers of the game The Sims Social. In its complaint, EA accuses Zynga of pretty much copying the entirity of the Sims Social in its game The Ville. In a press release about the case, EA states:

As outlined in our complaint, when The Ville was introduced in June 2012, the infringement of The Sims Social was unmistakable to those of us at Maxis as well as to players and the industry at large. The similarities go well beyond any superficial resemblance. Zynga’s design choices, animations, visual arrangements and character motions and actions have been directly lifted from The Sims Social. The copying was so comprehensive that the two games are, to an uninitiated observer, largely indistinguishable. Scores of media and bloggers commented on the blatant mimicry.

Compare that to Zynga’s statement about its lawsuit against Vostu:

Let’s be clear – it is one thing to be inspired by Zynga games, but it is entirely different to copy all of our key product features, product strategy, branding, mission statement and employee benefits lock, stock and barrel. We welcome Vostu into the arena of social games, but blatant infringement of our creative works is not an acceptable business strategy—it is a violation of the law.

In both statements, the accuser is stating that outright copying was taking place. That each accused game was a near replica of the other game. Such a claim from EA after Zynga made very much the same claims has got to be one of the largest legal karma slaps in history. One that Zynga will be very much lucky to walk away from.

Elsewhere in the filing, EA shows that Zynga’s cloning is not limited to this one case. It lists numerous instances where Zynga had been accused of cloning other popular games. It lists the afore mentioned Mafia Wars, Dream Heights, Farmville and Zynga Bingo, all games that had been publicly accused of being clones. This was done to show that Zynga has an extensive history of cloning games.

EA’s filing is also full of interesting screen shot comparisons in which it points out some of the more common similarities, such as the almost exact duplication of skin tone selections and personality types. EA even provided a video showing other similarities in animations.

Something to note in these examples is that they follow a very similar pattern to the filing Zynga made in its case against Vostu. In that filing, any time Zynga wanted to show off the similarities of the two games in question, it would show images that use as many similar elements arranged in as similar a fashion as possible. Something that EA does as well. This tactic is deployed as a method to project as much of a feeling of copyright infringement as possible. Unfortunately, it also clouds the fact that much of what is shown are in all actuality user made choices.

In response to this lawsuit, Zynga has sent a comment out to the media.

The Ville is the newest game in our ‘ville’ franchise — it builds on every major innovation from our existing invest-and-express games dating back to YoVille and continuing through CityVille and CastleVille, and introduces a number of new social features and game mechanics not seen in social games todayIt’s unfortunate that EA thought that this was an appropriate response to our game, and clearly demonstrates a lack of understanding of basic copyright principles. It’s also ironic that EA brings this suit shortly after launching SimCity Social, which bears an uncanny resemblance to Zynga’s CityVille game. Nonetheless, we plan to defend our rights to the fullest extent possible and intend to win with players.

Since we are in a compare/contrast mood today, let’s take a quick look at how Vostu responded to Zynga’s lawsuit.

Zynga has been accused of copying so many games that they’ve sadly lost the ability to recognize games like ours that are chock full of original content and have been independently created. Vostu has 500 brilliant employees working night and day making hand drawings and writing proprietary code for online games that our 35 million users worldwide enjoy. Zynga’s anti-competitive effort to bully us with a frivolous lawsuit — especially when we have some of the same key investors — is pathetic. While Zynga plays games with the legal process we will continue focusing on using our substantial resources to create games that entertain our customers.

There are two key similarities between these two defensive statements. The first is that both companies make the claim that their work is original and built with the companies’ creative talents. The other is both are claiming that the lawsuits are less about copyright and more about attacking a competitor. It really boggles the mind that a company like Zynga has missed the poetics of this situation.

While we have repeatedly stated that the practice of game cloning is something that can be dealt with outside of the legal system, it is interesting to see these two players go toe to toe. What makes this case even more interesting than a typical cloning case, as I have tried to portray, is that Zynga set itself up for this lawsuit. Not just by copying EA’s game, but also by providing the exact kind of legal precedent EA needs to win. If Zynga is to defend itself in this case, it is in effect defending Vostu’s actions. Something that Zynga probably isn’t looking forward to.

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