Friday, September 4, 2009

Analyzing Mechwarrior's legal issues

Tomahawk Warhammer Comparison
Inserito originariamente da Abriael
Earlier today the internet was set ablaze as Harmony Gold sent a Cease and Desist order to IGN, stating that the trailer for Mechwarrior included imagery that infringed their copyrights.

I have to say that Mechwarrior is one of the games that I'm eagerly waiting for, being the reboot of a series of games that has been sorely missed since when Microsoft decided to abandon it. After all we didn't have many good mech simulators lately. The Armored Core series is failing to impress in it's latest installments, and we still don't know if we'll ever see Gundam Senki published in the west.

The Mechwarrior series is based on the pen and paper role playing game with the same name, that was part of the Battletech series of games, published in the 80s and 90s by FASA corporation, later acquired by Microsoft.

The first editions of Battletech were published when copyright were still a quite undefined issue and included several mech designs pulled directly from the Japanese anime series Macross. FASA always claimed that such designs were licensed, but proof of that was kind of cloudy.

In 1996 the American publisher Harmony Gold, that held the license for Macross in the US (and completely raped the series by publishing that half-baked westernized aberration named Robotech), issued a legal action against FASA, that ended with FASA losing in the resulting litigation and removing all the mechs that resembled the ones in Macross from their games.

One of such mechs was the Warhammer, that incidentally was one of the favourites between the fans. Unfortunately it was also identical to the destroid Tomahawk (renamed as Excaliber by Harmony Gold in Robotech) from Macross.
As you can see in the picture above, the mech on the left (the Tomahawk) and the one in the middle (the Warhammer, as portrayed on the cover of the 2nd edition of Battletech), are absolutely identical.

I was actually surprised to see that Piranha Games reinstated the Warhammer in their new Macross trailer. At the time I thought that they got some kind of deal with Harmony Gold. Turns out that they didn't.

The Warhammer in the trailer has been redesigned and modernized, but it's still possible to see the resemblance with the original Tomahawk. Elements like the cannons, the structure of the legs, the triple-barreled cannon on the chest, the missile launcher and searchlight on the shoulders are still evident and the general silhouette remains the same.

While I understand that the Warhammer was one of the fans' (and mine) favourites, I can't really fathom the reason why Piranha games decided to step into a very grey area and give Harmony Gold a chance for further legal action and general asshattery. Maybe they thought that the redesign was different enough? Or was it simple oversight?

While I personally hold absolutely no sympathy for Harmony Gold due to the absolutely abysmal treatment they reserved to Macross, that will probably be remembered in history as one of the worst western edition of an Anime ever (not to mention the fact that it's primarily their fault if Macross games never get published in the west), I have to say that they might have some ground here.

Now we'll have to see what will happen. Probably the easiest course of action for Piranha is to simply pull the Warhammer out of their game like Microsoft did. We'll have to see, though, if the vultures at Harmony Gold will let them get away with it, now that the trailer has been already published.
If they were to go to court, though, things might get ugly and quite confused.
While the precedent ruling in favor of Harmony Gold is quite solid, the Warhammer HAS been redesigned, even if just partly. It was extremely easy to demonstrate beyond any reasonable doubt that the old Warhammer was identical to the Tomahawk. The new one is more of a grey area, and will probably require a subjective ruling by the court as it's very difficult to actually determine if a similar but not identical design infringes a copyright or not.

Personally, I always hoped to see Harmony gold kicked in the shins, but I won't hold my breath over it.

1 comment:

  1. I honestly don't see enough similarity with this redesign. If you had used a better shot to portray the searchlight thing, you'd note it's not the same shape, nor is it offset off the torso by some extention arm- it's rather firmly attached right on the upper half of the left torso. Though it doesn't make that much of a change to the appearance, the SRM no longer has the launcher doors/covers, either. And, yes, the same jist of a leg- that is, it's big and thick and square. Not really a 'leg' to stand on for HG, I feel (yes, bad pun, I know). As for the 'triple-barreled cannon on the chest', if you note the Tomahawk model picture you used has four barrels in each chest cavity, same for the old BattleTech handbook. As for the cannons... if they cling onto that for cause that it's similar, my already poor opinion of HG will be even lower. The rest of the arms are quite distinct enough that it shouldn't matter, but not only that, but the Project Phoenix 'Reseen' version had the long-barreled PPCs, too. It's not something that can just be done away with when you're doing a Warhammer.

    Though have we heard of HG directly going at either Smith and Tinker or Piranha? All I've seen since then has been HG telling news sites (like IGN) to knock it off. And Piranha still has shots of the Warhammer on their page- it's practically the mascot of the game the way they proudly display it (as it was the 'poster-boy' for the original MechWarrior PC game, it seems rather appropriate).

    I should hope this gets resolved behind the scenes, and in favor of allowing the revised Warhammer (and similarly revised Unseen) to appear in the game. Otherwise, I'd find this just as stupid as the original incident that was instigated by Playmates stepping on BattleTech's toes with Exo-Squad.