Ubisoft is being sued by a science-fiction author who claims the publisher has breached his copyright by using ideas from one of his novels in the Assassin's Creed series.
John L Beiswenger claims his 2003 book Link was the source of Ubisoft's inspiration, and in a lengthy court filing details the publisher's supposed transgressions. Link features a device which enables the user to access, recall and relive ancestral memories, similar to Assassin's Creed's Animus.
Other similarities which Beiswenger and his attorneys Kelley Clements Keller claim show copyright infringement include the use of the Link and Animus devices to experience historically accurate moments, "spiritual and biblical tones", and "the battle between good and evil."
It all sounds rather spurious – and poorly targeted, given that the suit names Gametrailers as a co-defendant because it premiered two videos, for which Beiswenger seeks $180,000 in damages. Greg Boyd, of New York law firm Davis & Gilbert, doesn't think the author has much chance of success.
"Ideas are not copyrightable, but the fixed expression of an idea in a medium is," he tells us. "The test for copyright infringement is 'substantial similarity', and this will probably fail that test."
Boyd acknowledges the similarities between the Weisbenger's device and the Animus, but says the complaint is missing a smoking gun. "There is no concrete proof that the game designers had access to the novel," he says. "A great fact in many winning cases is that the author of the original work discussed, or pitched, the work to the infringing company, or the original work was a best-selling novel so access to it was easy."
And what of Gametrailers? "It's odd," Boyd says, putting it mildly. "They clearly did not create Assassin's Creed, and it's a stretch to place additional liability on them."
Beiswenger seeks $540,000 in damages, legal fees and expenses, an injunction preventing Ubisoft from further infringement, and any further relief the Philadelphia court deems appropriate. The publisher is currently working on Assassin's Creed III, which was announced last month and will be released on October 30.