In what seemed like another case of David vs. Goliath from the surface, Zenimax – parent company of Bethesda Softworks – looked to bringing down the legal hammer on little ol’ Mojang, creators of Minecraft.
The trademark dispute was over the title of Mojang’s next game, Scrolls, and Mojang/Minecraft creator Notch was not shy about being public about the legal matter with his jokes over Twitter, going so far as to challenge Bethesda to a game of Quake III to settle the dispute. Bethesda remained silent and here’s why.
From a fan perspective, it’s easy to get behind Notch and favor the “little guy” but as we understand more about the case, it’s – as we said before – never as simple as it seems. As much as we love Bethesda and Mojang, and laughed and smiled at the idea of these two companies playing games together to solve a legal matter, it’s actually more serious than that and believe it or not, Zenimax may have strong reason to go after Mojang. At least, that seems to be so unless Notch’s latest words ring true.
Let’s back up here and do a little background catch-up on the issue.
- In early August, it all began when Notch revealed via Twitter that he received a legal notice: “Just got a letter from Bethesta’s lawyers. They claim “Scrolls” infringes on their trademark and everyone will confuse it with Skyrim.”
- Two weeks later, Notch, on his personal blog, called the legal issue “nonsense” and offered a better solution: a Quake 3 deathmatch to determine the victor. Fans laughed and loved the idea of livestream of such a crazy event. So did we.
- A few days later, in an interview with Wired, Notch reflected on his challenge, revealing that it may not have been such a wise choice… because they’d probably lose in Quake 3 and would have to change the name anyway. He reiterated that jokes aside, he was serious about going to court to defend against what he claimed is a “bogus” dispute.
- We spoke with Bethesda at an Xbox 360 event and they had no comment – staff is not allowed to discuss. They did say they love Minecraft, though!
- Last week: Mojang receives notice that they’re going to court.
That’s the basics of the story up until now and understandably a lot of fans (and even us at first) were a little confused over the timing of all of this and how Bethesda/Zenimax was handling the situation, not believing that The Elder Scrolls should prevent another game from being called Scrolls. However, as Kotaku dug up, it’s not that simple and it’s more about Bethesda defending their franchise from potentially losing that title.
See, the Mojang trademark application for Scrolls was rather encompassing and includes television, film and even educational uses, among others. Below is just the video games portion:
Computer games; video games; computer software; computer and video games software; computer software downloaded or downloadable; computer software publications downloaded; interactive entertainment software; data recorded electronically from the Internet; data recorded in machine readable form from the Internet; discs, tapes, cartridges, CD-ROMs and other magnetic, electronic or optical media, all bearing computer games software or video games; electronic amusement apparatus for use with television receivers; electronic games apparatus; home video game machines.
This would essentially grant them ownership of the word in every media form, something Bethesda can’t allow since their own aged franchise uses the word. If this passed, Mojang could technically aim to stop Bethesda from using the word “Scrolls,” but whether that would succeed or not is another question.
So, maybe many folks had it wrong and it was the big, silent Bethesda trying to protect themselves. Then again, Notch posted again on his blog today to make it known that he offered to alter the name of the Scrolls game and to even drop the trademark.
We realized we should apply for the trademark “Minecraft” to protect our brand. When doing so, we also sent in an application for “Scrolls”. When Bethesda contacted us, we offered both to change the name to “Scrolls: <some subtitle>” and to give up the trademark.
They refused on both counts.
I don’t understand. If Mojang offered to drop the trademark, what is this about? Does that not end the issue? Did they really offer to drop the trademark? More on this soon.
Follow me on Twitter @rob_keyes.