Bethesda Bullies One Of Its Creative Fans Over Website Metatags

from the jerk-like dept

Bethesda has something of a complicated history on our pages. The company is at once often terrible on matters of enforcing its intellectual property in a protectionist manner, while also occasionally acting quite good on matters of connecting with its fans in a meaningful and downright sweet manner. Few and far between have been the stories of those two separate philosophies intersecting, but we have such an instance now as Bethesda has demanded any Bethesda trademark words be removed in metatags on the website for DoomRL, a fan-made rogue-like inspired by the classic Doom games.

It’s a strangely worded letter in a couple of respects. First, the letter seems to be focused on the use of words and/or phrases trademarked by Bethesda/ZeniMax within the metatags for the DoomRL website, as opposed to making any sort of copyright claim on the game itself. In other words, it’s not at all clear from the threat letter whether or not the company is objecting to the fan-game in any way, or just the use of the metatags. If the latter, the threat makes very little sense. The text on the website doesn’t mention Bethesda or ZeniMax at all and only mentions ID Software to credit it for being the creators of the Doom franchise. The trademarks that appear to be in question are references to Doom itself.

And these are a game, a website, and references that are years old. The game appears to have been in production for at least six years and has been publicized on the web for about as long. It’s a game that doesn’t resemble any actual Bethesda property and is instead a fan’s new take on the franchise, offered for free. I don’t read any objection into the game itself in the threat letter, so why make such a big deal over the use of the Doom name itself? Is Bethesda cool with a fan making a Doom inspired game, so long as that fan never mentions it to anyone?

As a result of the threat, however, creator Kornel Kisielewicz has decided to scrap DoomRL for a successor that doesn’t include any Doom IP. This is about the time that defenders of copyright and trademark will chime in to suggest that intellectual property enforcement has led to the creation of new intellectual property, thus fulfilling its purpose… except that isn’t really true. It’s basically the same game, just with the added effort of pretending like it’s something it wasn’t originally. Yay?

And, more importantly, the stripping of references to Doom helps Bethesda how, exactly? What was once a native expansion of the franchise as an expression of love from a fan, one which could only serve to point new potential customers back to the original game series, has instead become something independent of that series. Kisielewicz has even started a Kickstarter for the sanitized game to now profit off of it, instead of acting as a free promoter for Bethesda’s game. At best, Bethesda loses out on a free marketing vector for its Doom franchise, while at worst some in the gaming public will want to punish the company for this aggressive behavior. How exactly is this kind of IP bludgeoning a better option than working with the fan/creator?

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Companies: bethesda, zenimax

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Comments on “Bethesda Bullies One Of Its Creative Fans Over Website Metatags”

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19 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

So, the same Bethesda that tried to pull off paid modding, and re-released skyrim just so they could try to corner the mod marketplace, is being shady yet again?

In regards to DoomRL, last I checked (and played), it was around before Bethesda ever released their attempt at the other genre which DoomRL does not share because it’s a ROGUELIKE, not an FPS.

It’s also not a game that shares too much with any other game in the roguelike genre. Really, they’re pretty great on keeping to the feeling/theme of Doom while having absolutely fuckall to do with the original or any sequels.

All in all, Bethesda can choke on a sack of medieval chokepears https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pear_of_anguish One of the modders that provide 95% of the content of their games anyway have probably modelled one already.

Anonymous Coward says:

“As a result of the threat, however, creator Kornel Kisielewicz has decided to scrap DoomRL for a successor that doesn’t include any Doom IP.”

Nope. He started the Kickstarter for the successor before he got the threat letter. If anything, the causality is the other way: the Kickstarter is probably what got DoomRL on Bethesda’s radar.

He also hasn’t exactly scrapped DoomRL; he’s released the source code on Github.

Alasdair Fox (profile) says:

Re: Re:

This is correct. DoomRL had been around for over 10 years, but only when the Jupiter Hell kickstarter appeared did it attract any legal attention from Zenimax.
I’d guess the issue might have been more with the Doom logo across the main banner of the website, which was similar enough to the original iD software Doom logo that it might well be infringing under trademark law, (i.e. there may be a likelihood of confusion to the consumer that this is a Bethesda / Zenimax product. )
As this logo has now been changed, and the name changed to DRL, with the site and game still up, this seems pretty likely.

Anonymous Coward says:

WTH? I don’t have any sympathy for the website owner. Morons and idiots would know that any name that is protected by copyright and/or trademark is still protected by copyright and trademark laws, even if you include such names in “meta-tags”. It took me a five second search to find this out.

Competent attorneys recommend that website owners seek the permission of those entities who own the rights to those names, even if you include them in meta-tags to generate traffic to your website.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Response to: Anonymous Coward on Dec 8th, 2016 @ 5:22pm

If all you did is a five-second search to arrive at that conclusion, maybe you should refrain from expressing your opinion in abaolute terms…

More importantly, though, does this have a base case law or something? Is it even settled? I mean, for example, many people have described games such as the Torchlight series as “Diablo clones” or words to that effect. Does Blizzard then have standing to sue if the devs of games described as such partake in it?

PRMan (profile) says:

Re: Re:

A one-second Google search led me to a product in a class of products that are routinely sold:

http://www.sallybeauty.com/shimmer-lights-shampoo/SBS-264028,default,pd.html?utm_source=google&utm_medium=cpc&utm_campaign=SHO&cm_mmc=google-_-SHO-_-cpc-_-keyword&gclid=CjwKEAiAyanCBRDkiO6M_rDroH0SJAAfZ4KLetevDcxazgz1sKYvaoFVZCpULP3RXwZArBSt91Y0-BoC7OPw_wcB

Conditioning Shampoo compare to Clairol Shimmer Lights Original Conditioning Shampoo

The compare to trademark is written right on the bottle, and yet my wife has been buying products like these for her hair for decades. It has already been found to be legal.

So he could call it “Jupiter Hell compare to Doom” and he would be legally perfectly in the clear.

Thad (user link) says:

Re: Re:

Morons and idiots would know that any name that is protected by copyright and/or trademark is still protected by copyright and trademark laws, even if you include such names in "meta-tags". It took me a five second search to find this out.

Your five-second search was apparently insufficient to determine that names cannot actually protected by copyright.

While there is likely a trademark case to be made against DoomRL for its title and logo, you’re going to have to provide a better referece than "five second search" for the legal theory that you can’t use trademarked terms in a website’s meta tags.

Anonymous Coward says:

Just to nitpick somewhat:

The tweet explicitly stated that it’s ZeniMax that sent the notice not Bethesda.

Bethesda tends to want to connect with its customers and produce games their fan base wants to see. They are fan and modder friendly. However, when ZeniMax sticks its nose into the situation things become fan hostile with money grabs and fan hostile policies. This is a case of ZeniMax doing exactly that. Typical corporate short sightedness. Ubisoft and EA are in the same category when it comes treating fans like adversaries.

Wyrm (profile) says:

Actually, this could be a nice case of trademark dilution.
I’ve heard several subgenres being called by the name of one of the early games in the genre and “Doom-like” is one of them (3d first person shooter, often those in sci-fi settings.)

The list includes Diablo, Doom, Civ, Metroid-Castlevania (under the portmanteau Metroidvania) and more. Textbook examples of trademark dilution.

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