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October 5, 2012

LEGALWATCH: Games Workshop vs Chapterhouse - What's Going On?

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The legal battle continues, but what is going on with the case in layman's terms? Here's a primer to get you current.

Legal summary by Rules Lawyer

Games Workshop and Chapterhouse Studios have been at odds over the alleged copying of Games Workshop products by Chapterhouse. Games Workshop insists that by copying these products, Chapterhouse has infringed their copyrights and trademarks. Chapterhouse has countered that Games Workshop doesn’t actually have a valid copyright, and if they do that Chapterhouse hasn’t infringed that copyright. I’ll let you read up on the background if you’re interested.

At the moment the court has dueling motions for summary judgment before it. Both sides have filed their motions, motions in opposition, and motions in support. I’m here to talk about what’s going on and what arguments both sides are making.

What is a motion for summary judgment? A summary judgment is when a party asks the court to rule in their favor. But they aren’t asking the court to weigh the evidence and come down on one side or the other; the party moving for summary judgment argues that even if all of the evidence is viewed in a light most favorable to the other side, the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Judgment may be on one or more legal claims or issues. So GW could get summary judgment on a few infringing products but not others. You may have noticed in the previous update that there are some other motions. These other motions are supporting their own or opposing the other’s motion.

Games Workshop’s Motion:
Games Workshop isn’t claiming that Chapterhouse copied their products identically, they don’t have to: “exact reproduction is not necessary to establish infringement.” Instead, they assert that Chapterhouse has created their products from Games Workshop models, are compatible with Games Workshop models, and derived from the “interrelated parts of one ongoing and evolving story involving the same essential characters.” While Chapterhouse may not have directly copied Games Workshops models, Games Workshop argues they are “substantially similar” so that “an ordinary reasonable person would conclude that the defendant unlawfully appropriated the plaintiff’s protectable expression by taking material of substance and value.”

Chapterhouse challenges these conclusions, and argues that any copying only involved non-copyrightable elements that Games Workshop cannot claim ownership over: public domain elements (such as arrows, crosses, and chevrons) and functional elements (sized and shaped to fit with Games Workshops products).

Chapterhouse’s Motion: Chapterhouse is a little more detailed on the legal side and requires a bit more attention.

First, Chapterhouse argues that Games Workshop has expressly abandoned a number of claims and these should be dismissed. If so then these claims should be dismissed.

Second, Chapterhouse asserts that a number of Games Workshops copyrights may still be owned by the original authors, and Games Workshop cannot show it owns the copyrights at issue. Copyrights are only held by a company if they were created by an employee or assigned “by a signed writing.” It seems Games Workshop used a lot of freelance artists (not employees), and never bothered to get signed documents transferring a number of copyrights.

Games Workshop counters that there is no dispute over ownership of the copyrights: any copyrights were either created by employees (although Games Workshop happens to no longer retain employment records for them), not relevant to this case, or were properly assigned.

Third, citing a famous case involving Star Wars Storm Troopers toys, Chapterhouse argues that “mass produced plastic toys” are not protectable as “sculptures” or “works of artistic craftsmanship” under English law, and therefore not copyrightable. Because copyright validity is determined by the laws of the country of origin, if the works are not entitled to a copyright under U.K. law then they are not entitled to copyright under U.S. law.

Games Workshop challenges this by asserting that Chapterhouse is infringing drawings rather than models, and these drawings are properly copyrightable products.

Finally, the meat of the Chapterhouse argument is that once the unprotectable elements of Games Workshop’s works are filtered out, there is no substantial similarity between the Games Workshop and Chapterhouse products.

That's where we are so far.  Oral arguments before the court are next, then the Judges will begin to issue judgments. The case is ongoing.
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