If you follow much gaming news, or literature news, or ever go on Twitter you may have heard about a recent problem involving copyright issues. Namely concerning the Banner Saga versus the Candy Saga. The complaint is that King, publisher of Candy Saga, believes customers might become confused and accidentally buy Banner Saga instead of their app. The worse part is that they could actually have a case… maybe.
To start off, this is a subject close to my attention because of my writing career. Because despite the multitude of words in the world, there really aren’t that many. What I mean is that while we have many languages and sources to draw ideas from, there really are only so many words in the world (made up D&D and Klingon languages aside) in regular use. As a writer I have to create ideas, give them names, and then present them to a publisher or agent. If any of those ideas are too close to someone else’s then I am up the creek without a… is paddle copywritten now?
Anyway, back to Saga v. Saga. The two video game titles are similar but both contain different preceding words. Commonly the law has made single word titles like ‘Scrolls’ not copyrightable but let long conjunctions of words like ‘The Elder Scrolls’ be copyrighted. The issue actually came up a few years ago when Mojang was developing their online tradable card game. Bethesda’s legal team went to work on Mojang’s Scroll project saying the two were too close in title. In this case, King is objecting to Banner Saga’s title not suing them.
What is happening (and it is explained exceptionally well by Kotaku here) is that King is protecting it’s usage of the word ‘saga.’ If it can successfully defend the name till 2016 then it becomes ‘safe’ and they gain enough control of the word to defend it in court.
For now, King is only stating that they are objecting to Stoic Studio’s application for Banner Saga as a title. There is no real lawsuit. Even if there was it would likely end like Scrolls’ legal battle out of court with a settlement.
The real issue here for outraging gamers isn’t really two companies having a staring contest. It has much more to do with the future of creative control. Take the instance of indie publishers getting legal takedown notices from Games Workshop for using the phrase ‘Space Marine.’ In every case it was the massive corporation versus a starving writer. Not much of a legal battle as it was a slaughter and publishers like Amazon allow it to happen.
Big corporations have begun pushing their control on common everyday words to the point that newcomers can’t even get their foot in the door. I mean would you read something called ‘Space Military Professionals’ or ‘Space Sailors’ and take it seriously? Dying fads like Candy Crush Saga won’t even be around long enough to call in this lawsuit, but hey they have the money now to be jerks. Just because something is popular doesn’t mean it should own our words.
Language is so personal, so intricle to our being, that it feels like a slight against everyone who understands it when something like this happens. You think in your language, dream in your language, blog in your language, and live everyday communicating and making deep connections with others through your language. It is a part of you. Which helps explain partially why so many dimwitted people were upset about the ‘Coke-troversy’ during the Superbowl. They felt like their language was a part of who they were and that anything that looked like it was differing was a threat to their tiny tribe.
For those of us with two working brain hemispheres, we know that they were ignorant, but why are we upset at copyright lawsuits then. They are just words right? No, because we feel like someone claiming them is just as wrong as someone being outraged at a soda company singing something in a different language. We feel like that is a corporation stealing a piece of us from ourselves.
Words are weird in this way. They are the way we communicate our thoughts but more importantly the way we commune as an information society creature. It is how we brand our tribe and name our children and know what cereal we want and know where home is on a map and how we tell each other we love one another. In short, we own our words. Company’s are just borrowing them. While we have every right to be defensive of our words we should also keep a level head.
In the case of Candy Saga vs. Banner Saga, I hope King loses. I don’t want anyone no matter the saga to make claims on single words. But more importantly I want the language that we share to continue to be free and accessible to new creatives for the future. Because let’s face, it’s either we keep the language free or we all start learning Esperanto.
Note: I started researching this topic. I found so many great articles that it would be ridiculous to offer them all here. If you want to know more check out more in this vein of research, you should see my blog, Concerning Fiction. I’ll post all the links that I read about this there as well as several in the drop down section below.
Space Marines Amazon ‘Spot the Space Marine http://www.amazon.com/Spots-Space-Marine-Defense-Fiddler-ebook/product-reviews/B006MGJYOE/ref=cm_cr_dp_qt_hist_two?ie=UTF8&filterBy=addTwoStar&showViewpoints=0
Electronic Frontier Foundation https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2013/02/trademark-bully-thwarted-spots-space-marine-back-online Boing Boing http://boingboing.net/2013/02/06/games-workshop-trademark-bully.html
Scrolls Joystiq http://www.joystiq.com/2014/01/22/the-banner-saga-still-coming-to-tablets-candy-crush-saga-dev-wo/ http://www.joystiq.com/2012/03/12/mojang-cant-use-scrolls-in-any-sequels-to-scrolls-lawsuit/