When Marvel Hired People To Break Its Own Trademarks
In 2004, a video game company named Cryptic Studios released a new multiplayer game, City of Heroes. Though it was a superhero game, it wasn't based on any existing property—it fact, it couldn't even use the word "superhero" in the title, because that word is jointly trademarked by Marvel and DC. Instead, players could create their own heroes, using a combination of origins, archetypes, and designs.
This room for creativity created a problem. Lawyers from Marvel (the sort who would have sued had the game used the word "superheroes") noted that players were able to create heroes worryingly similar to copyrighted Marvel properties. While it wasn't as simple as picking one character from a list of 20, players could mix and match and wind up with the forbidden characters. For example, if they picked a "tanker," and gave him a science theme, and made him green, that would be incredibly similar to the Hulk, wouldn't it? And in fact, lawyers dug up an example of such a character some player had made, as well as a character they said looked just like Wolverine.
You're probably skeptical of Marvel's position here. You can't sue Microsoft if someone copies your book using Word. If anything, these examples showed how simple these famous characters are, if they can be so easily replicated from building blocks.
And yet the game publisher had already foreseen these issues. That's why they forbade players from making characters too similar to copyrighted heroes, and moderators stepped in to tinker with iffy player creations. So where had the off-brand Hulk and Wolverine come from then? Cryptic Studios investigated and discovered that these player characters had actually been created by Marvel's lawyers themselves, for the sake of filing the lawsuit.
With Banner and Logan stricken from the evidence list, Marvel had little basis for their complaint, and the dispute ended with Cryptic having to change nothing about their game. The following year, Marvel announced they were making their own superhero multiplayer game, now featuring authorized Marvel properties. Which developer had they picked to make the game? Cryptic Studios.
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