Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Who Owns The Mittani?

"You hereby grant CCP an exclusive, perpetual, worldwide, irrevocable, assignable, royalty-free license, fully sub-licensable through multiple tiers, to exercise all intellectual property and other rights, in and to all or any part of your User Content, in any medium now known or hereafter developed."
 - Eve® Online End User License Agreement

You'll recall we discussed what the transition of The Mittani from an in-game character to a corporate trademark in terms of Mittens as an entity independent from The Mittani®, the trademark for the eponymous Eve website

Now, if you've been paying attention you'll note that doesn't restrict itself to Eve-specific content.  Articles about a other online games have gotten play on TheMittani, such as the recent articles on MechWarrior online. There are book reviews of various stripes, few of them directly to do with Eve. The editors obviously are not chaining themselves to the decks of CCP's ship. It's no secret that they intend to diversify their content, with hopes of becoming a player in the larger online gaming media community. Slow and steady growth beginning with the ready-made Eve audience as content providers are discovered or step up is a rood, low risk business plan. In time I expect to see Eve Online become a subset (albeit an important one) of TheMittani® brand content.

TheMittani®, as a profit-making venture using Eve copyrighted content, such as logos and artwork, will be paying the well defined fees for using CCP intellectual content on monetized fan sites.  But if one day TheMittani® becomes a going concern in the online gaming press, their content and influence extending far beyond Eve, and a piece of TheMittani® begins to have meaningful cash or influence value, CCP could decide to point out that it owns one of TheMittani®'s key assets: Its name.

Who owns your in-game name? CCP says it does (see above).

For example, let's say Rixx Javix makes bank selling Jixx Javix® masks and branded cod-pieces. And let's say he is then approached by Disney® who want to buy the rights to Rixx Javix® (in order to star the rascal as an interstellar pirate/anarchist in their next Star Wars movie).  At that point, with vast fortunes on the table, CCP could step in and point out that Rixx Javix was originally developed by the player for Eve Online using CCP assets.  Thus, CCP being the owner of all Eve online content (you read the license agreement when you signed up, didn't you?), Disney® must negotiate solely with CCP for rights to the Rixx Javix® character.  Then they turn to Rixx himself and demand their share of the profits from his masks and codpiece business. 

Or let's say Mat Westhorpe of Freebooted writes a novel featuring Seismic Stan that is so screamingly popular it becomes an international best-selling series. The release of each book is more anticipated and published with more fanfare than the last.  Neil Gaiman contracts to do the graphic novel. James Cameron demands a screenplay. Mat's wife grudgingly admits his time playing Eve might (possibly) have been less than an utter waste. And then, as with Rixx, CCP quietly says 'ahem' and holds out a hand for a majority slice of the Freebooted pie. Because, after all, Seismic Stan is CCP intellectual property.

See? A few random synapses fire and all of a sudden I'm raining on everybody's parade. It's a gift.

However the law being what it is, and international intellectual property law being even moreso, it will take a more lawyerly person than myself to answer whether and where CCP's claim to your character's name would stick in a court of law when real money is on the table. So, if you're getting ready to shred that 600 page magnum opus starring your Eve character into the shredder, hold off until you've had a qualified IP lawyer look things over.  

In the meantime, I've no doubt TheMittani®'s board of directors have thought all this through, and anticipated the potential difficulties of their brand name being owned by CCP.  They've probably already come up with a legal remedy acceptable to both parties. The ink on such an agreement is likely long dried ere now.  Nothing to see here, move along. These aren't the 'droids you're looking for.

Or so one might hope.


  1. I'm pretty sure someone has written a story about Seismic Stan already. Years ago (but after creating the character), I recall Googling the name and there was a villain character in a novel about superheroes or some such with the name Seismic Stan. I'd link it, but some EVE geek has flooded the search engine and now I can't find it.

    It was pure coincidence, but how would CCP handle that? Or indeed any number of characters with names not exclusive to EVE Online.

    As a further example, The Mittani is actually an extinct Middle Eastern tribe. I'm pretty sure any corporation would have a tough time proving ownership of that. Although I'm sure Apple would try.

    If I were to write such a novel as you suggest, I'd either get CCP backing or I'd change the name. Surely that would solve the problem, wouldn't it? Certainly food for thought though.

    (P.S. There's only one T in Westhorpe)

    1. Apologies for the name typo - fixed.

      One can always change the name, but if the value of the name is that it draws in a known audience, that's not always an option.

      There are names that are already copyrighted or are public domain.

      In the former case, I might name my in-game character Obi-wan Kenobi, but it would be Disney coming after me rather than CCP. I can't assign CCP rights to IP that I didn't create and don't own.

      In the latter case, I can't assign CCP rights to a name that's in the public domain (Mord Fiddle, for example, to the tune of about 900 years or so) as I didn't create it and I can't own it. Of course, by the same token, I can't keep someone else from publishing works using that name.

  2. Want to through in another wrinkle? How about the fact that many people maintain consistent character names across different MMO's?

    What if I use my real name in a game?

    What if I use a name already Copyrighted under a different IP?

    CCP can type up anything they want into an EULA but it doesn't make it so. Part of that EULA is assuming that the user has any rights to something that can be assigned "exclusively, perpetually, blah blah blah" to CCP in the first place.

    It always amusing to see game companies create EULA's that essentially seek to grant them the same power in RL as they have in their game worlds. A hard look would reveal that the ability to enforce that kind of EULA in an international setting would be costly in the extreme and likely more damaging in PR than any financial gain a website might generate.

    It should be noted that The Mittani already has a lawyer on staff....

  3. I doubt CCP would waste money enforcing ownership where there were no financial return in so doing.

  4. I'm fairly certain Mittens revealed 'The Mittani' name was first used in some other MMO before being used for today's super villain of EVEOnline. So who *actually* owns that name then? CCP or the previous game's owner?

    Likewise, Oreamnos was used by myself in another game and is also the scientific genus of the species more commonly known as the Rocky Mountain Goat. I think CCP would have a hard time claiming they owned that.

  5. We are focusing on "names" a little much. Names, as presented here, have a wide and varied history and are often difficult to "own". Typically copyright and trademark rights are granted in a "sphere of influence" type of legal determination - for example, Rixx Javix in context of an intersteller Pirate is one thing - but Rixx Javix as a small squirrel in a children's book is another.

    The real issue, as it relates to Eve, isn't the specific name as much as what it is the name does. Or, rather, what the name has to sell.

    As it relates to in-game activities, certainly CCP has all the legal rights in the virtual world on their side. As it should be, it is their universe built upon their investments.

    But out-of-game is a different matter. Rixx Javix codpieces might be a profitable business venture, and more than likely legit and free of legal entaglements. However, I doubt they'd sell unless they had Eve logos on them. Since Rixx is tied to Eve, they'd probably only sell if they were Eve related. And there we go, CCP has trademark on Eve related items.

    The "worth" then becomes the determining factor. My name is worth anything only thru association with Eve/CCP. Otherwise it has no value. The value or "worth" derives from CCP. Hence any codpiece venture would need to be negotiated upfront. And since CCP isn't currently in the codpiece business, they just might be willing to entertain the idea.

    This happens to be extremely relevant to me at the moment, since I'm hoping to speak to CCP lawyers about a project I have in mind.

    The point being, CCP doesn't actually own TM's name. Just as they don't technically own mine. What they do own is the association of that name with the game, which in many ways is the entirety of its potential value.


    1. Some nice insights there. Here at The Edge we love giving nuance a close shave.

      Let me know how the CCP negotiations dance for you.

  6. CCP, not matter what their agreement states, does not own Mabrick. I have used that name for nearly 30 years. Should I decide to monetize under that brand, there is no court in the U.S. that would allow CCP to own that name.

    All that aside, remember the piece I did on the Mittani that got me war decced? I pointed out there was an ancient kingdom by that name. You cannot own it, it is an historical fixture and a common use term (for bronze era historians at least.)

    I should also point out the bit you quote grants a license to CCP. In that vein, it only means CCP can use anything on royalty free, it does not actually claim ownership. They could probably do the same thing under fair use and no court would disallow it since it is their game to begin with.

    Anyway, I'm not trying to be argumentative. THe topic is very interesting. I just think is perfectly safe from the depredations of CCP - as are we all. Lawyers, like insurance companies, always say "no" first because, even though they haven't a legal leg to stand on, they know half the claimants walk away from a valid claim at that point because they don't know better.

    1. "You hereby irrevocably and without additional consideration beyond the rights granted to you herein, assign to CCP any and all right, title and interest you have, including copyrights, in or to any and all information you exchange, transmit or upload to the System or while playing the Game, including without limitation all files, data and information comprising or manifesting corporations, groups, titles, characters and other attributes of your Account....

    2. A very interesting topic. Wow.

      As RixxJavix pointed out, in a line of thought started by Seismic Stan, is it correct to assume that then rather has to be regarded as "derivative work" ? As opposed to the "original content" constitued by Mr G. typing "The Mittani" into the character creator and all subsequent chat/eve-mail activity.

      How does practical IPlaw govern this ?

  7. A name is not copyrightable. It can be trade marked but it's arguable whether CCP owns the trade mark. Particularly in cases where the "brand", like Mabrick pre-dated the player's participation in Eve.

    I think it's important to realise what a EULA is. A EULA is not law. It's a point in CCP's favour should a case go to court. But a catch-all clause like this is rather weak, by claiming to own everything the clause lacks credibility. (For instance if you take it literally CCP now owns the fact that my mother went to the dentist last week, and for that matter my mother and her dentist as those are all things I've mentioned in-game).

    In court there will be a "moral" component to the judgment, ie what is fair. Would the "The Mittani" identity be what it is today without Eve? No, it certainly wouldn't. In fact it's not even this person's Something Awful handle. It seems to have been created and developed entirely in Eve and arguably as a result of Eve's peculiar game environment.

    So if The Mittani or Rixx or any of us became of sufficient value to be worth suing is that CCP could sue but the matter would almost certainly be settled out of court and privately.

  8. Don't believe that because it's in a contract, then the courts will approve it.

    Talking about laws and courts without referring to specifics only creates confusion, and does not lead to any solid discussions.

  9. I can't speak to the theory behind this blog post, but I *can* confirm that is looking at EVE as only one of many games they want to cover. Marc Scaurus (themittani editor) confirmed that in a pod-cast I was on with him over the weekend.

    EN24 is going the same direction, and it's for the same reason.

    If you have long-term growth aspirations, you don't tie your work to one product or property. If EVE dies, I don't think either or EN24 want to go down with it.

  10. Depending on the sorts of meta-activities you do associated with EVE there's a portion of the Terms of Use that's possibly more interesting: "6.4. By submitting Content, via chat or any other means, to the Web Site, you grant CCP a perpetual, royalty-free, irrevocable, non-exclusive worldwide right and license to use, disclose, display, exhibit, perform, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, translate, and distribute such Content or incorporate such Content into any form, medium, or technology now known or hereafter developed."

    I took this to mean "All your posts are belong to CCP", which is okay for most forum exchanges but a warning not to put anything that might have a chance of becoming Ascended Fanfic on the official EVE forum.