from the brought-by-actual-lawyers-who-should-actually-know-better dept
Today's misguided IP infringement lawsuit comes from Cinemark USA, one of the largest theater chains in the United States. Its target is Roblox, a multiplayer online sandbox game where users can create their own "worlds" using blocks -- putting it somewhere between Minecraft and Second Life.
Cinemark is accusing Roblox and a few dozen of its users of trademark infringement, thanks to the latter's creations. According to the lawsuit [PDF], various users have created versions of Cinemark theaters (complete with branding) and placed them in their own worlds, or uploaded for others to use in theirs.
It's one thing for Cinemark to pursue these Does for trademark infringement. (Although it's bound to be a waste of time, money, and reputation...) It's quite another to go after Roblox for content created by its users. Just because there's no built-in protection for service providers against claims of trademark infringement (like Section 230 of the CDA or the DMCA safe harbor) doesn't mean targeting the platform, rather than the actual wrongdoers, is the right way to approach this.
But this filing makes no distinction between Roblox and its users, despite there being a long list of usernames included. The better way to do this (again, assuming suing users, many of whom are likely to be under the age of 18, is somehow "better" than simply asking Roblox to take the content down) would be to serve Roblox a subpoena for account holder information as part of pre-trial discovery, rather than blowing through the entire filing referring to both Roblox and Does as inseparable "defendants."
Now, it's understandable that Cinemark might be concerned about unauthorized brand use. One of the stipulations of maintaining this indefinite protection is to assert your control over it. Litigation isn't the only option, but it seems to be the most popular one.
As for consumer confusion, it's highly unlikely Roblox users would consider user-generated content to be an authorized marketing attempt by the theater chain… especially when things like the following carry Cinemark branding.
Upon information and belief, subscribers/registered users and the general public can purchase virtual weapons, namely guns, for use inside the virtual playgrounds/workshops to kill other subscribers/users/members of the public, for virtual monies, inside virtual theaters or worlds bearing The Marks. Users virtually reenact tragic, violent real-world events involving an active shooter scenario at a Cinemark theater bearing The Marks.
On the other hand, some people are just as incapable of competently directing their complaints as Cinemark is.
Cinemark has received actual complaints from customers in the United States concerning the graphic violence and games associated with The Marks on Defendants’ website and/or virtual playgrounds/workshops.
Cinemark wants Roblox to be responsible for this infringement because it's likely the only entity involved that isn't judgment proof. But other than listing it as a defendant, Cinemark only directly refers to the platform once in the allegations, with a paragraph that alleges no wrongdoing (but implies that Roblox inappropriately and directly profits from users' infringing activity.)
On information and belief, subscribers and the general public are able to create an account, develop a virtual playground/workshop, purchase monthly or yearly memberships to the platform, and purchase monetary credits from Defendant Roblox Corporation in order to further the user’s virtual playground/workshop within the platform. On information and belief, Defendant Roblox Corporation also pays monetary sums to users, including the remaining Defendants for developing virtual playgrounds/workshops visited by others. On information and belief, the Defendants accept monetary credits from users who visit the Defendants’ virtual playgrounds/workshops.
Throughout the rest of the complaint, the Does and Roblox are referred to collectively as "defendants," even though there's almost zero chance the company will remain a defendant for long.
The usual claims are included: Lanham Act violations, unfair competition, dilution, and vanilla trademark infringement. Then there's a rather unusual one: "Texas common law business disparagement." This is tied to the user-generated sandboxes where visitors are given guns and allowed to shoot up a virtual theater.
By using The Marks in connection with virtual mass shootings in connection with Cinemark’s movie theaters, Defendants knowingly and/or recklessly make false statements that disparage Cinemark’s good name, business reputation, services, products and goods. Defendants did so with the intent to cause, and actually caused, pecuniary loss to the Cinemark in violation of the laws of Texas. Defendants knowingly and/or recklessly create virtual playgrounds/workshops where children can purchase and use virtual guns to cause mass shootings at virtual movie theaters under The Marks creating the false statement that Cinemark’s movie theaters are “unsafe”.
LOL. "Intent to cause pecuniary loss." Some idiot thought it would be funny or edgy or whatever and other idiots agreed. The only intent here was to appeal to the lowest common denominator. No one's going to "shoot" up a Roblox theater using Roblox weapons and come to the conclusion Cinemark theaters are unsafe, just as no one's going to play a few levels of Doom and decide further exploration of Mars by NASA is a bad idea because the planet contains a portal to hell.
The interesting thing about this particular allegation is that Cinemark kind of admits its lawsuit is being brought against minors. Roblox's target market is kids, and its user base skews young. This could be why Cinemark has decided to bundle in the platform maker as a defendant, even though there's almost no chance Cinemark will be pursuing anyone other than the Does once Roblox files a response and a judge looks it over.
Even without a response being filed, Cinemark is already losing. It has filed two motions: one for a preservation of evidence order and one for expedited discovery. Both have been rejected by Judge Reed O'Connor, who finds Cinemark's breathless pleadings a bit much.
From the order on the preservation request [PDF]:
Plaintiff avers that “Defendants are in possession of extensive electronic data that is essential to Cinemark’s claims that could easily be overwritten, transferred, or expunged.” Pl.’s Mot. 4, ECF No. 3. Plaintiff argues that “[m]oreover, Defendants’ electronic data mayeven be lost through Defendants’ computer’s and/or servers’normal use. For example, information and data contained on a computer’s hard drive are automatically written over and replaced with new data.”
[C]inemark does not prove that Roblox would “flaunt [its] obligation under the federal rules without a preservation order.” Id. Cinemark does not provide any evidence that the relevant electronic data will be destroyed absent a court order.
“To supplement every complaint with an order requiring compliance with the Rules of Civil Procedure would be a superfluous and wasteful task, and would likely create no more incentive upon the parties than already exists.” Hester v. Bayer Corp., 206 F.R.D. 683, 685 (M.D. Ala. 2001).
The expedited discovery request [PDF] fares no better, as Cinemark makes no showing as to why it needs to have (a) Roblox deposed, (b) production of all electronic evidence completed, and (c) immediate leave to file all non-party subpoenas -- all within 10 days of service.
It seems the better way to do this is to serve Roblox with requests to remove infringing content. And to do it correctly. None of this "any IP dispute can be resolved with a DMCA takedown notice" crap. It appears Roblox has already taken steps to delete content containing infringing marks. Its rules of conduct expressly forbid the posting of infringing content and it bans users/deletes accounts of those violating these terms. But to decide the next step (or the best option) is to sue, combining an entity that isn't legally culpable (Roblox) with a few dozen Does, all of which may be in the game's target range (ages 8-18), doesn't say much for Cinemark or the legal team representing it.