EA and Zynga copyright lawsuit hinges on 2011 agreement

Zynga says EA violated agreement with copyright lawsuit, EA asks judge to throw claim out

Financial trends and news by Steven Loeb
October 27, 2012
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Electronic Arts has asked a federal judge to dismiss claims filed by Zynga, which say that the copyright infringement lawsuit leveled against it by EA actually violated an agreement made by the two companies last year, Bloomberg reported Friday.

Electronic Arts, the creators of The Sims Social, sued Zynga in August, alleging that Zynga violated copyright infringement with its new game, called The Ville. It also claimed that EA senior executives who left to work at Zynga had revealed details about the strategy and development of The Sims Social.

In response, Zynga counter sued, seeking to stop EA from threatening to sue them, or from interfering with its hiring.

Zynga claimed that EA had breached the terms of an agreement the two companies had signed in September 2011, which stated that EA stated that it would release claims it had made related to Zynga recruiting former and current EA employees. In exchange, Zynga would agree to no longer solicit EA employees.

In its counter suit, Zynga also accused EA CEO John Riccitiello of getting Zynga to sign the agreement as part of an “anticompetitive and unlawful scheme.”

EA says that the agreement only had to do with claims through the period when the it was first signed, giving it the right to level this current lawsuit at Zynga.

Besides, EA said, the new complaint falls “far outside” the terms of that agreement.

“Alleged threats to sue Zynga in connection with its solicitation, recruitment and hiring of Electronic Arts employees were absolutely privileged,” it says in the filing.

Some background on the lawsuit

The Sims Social, a spin-off from the long running Sims franchise was released in August 2011; it allows players to produce characters and interact with their friends. The Ville followed nearly a year later in June 2012. It is the latest in the series of “ville” games released by Zynga, which have included FarmVille, CityVille and CastleVille.

Lucy Bradshaw, head of Maxis, the EA-owned studio that created The Sims Social, wrote a blog post in which she accused Zynga of lifting parts of The Sim Social wholesale for The Ville.

“Zynga’s design choices, animations, visual arrangements and character motions and actions have been directly lifted from The Sims Social.  The copying was so comprehensive that the two games are, to an uninitiated observer, largely indistinguishable.  Scores of media and bloggers commented on the blatant mimicry,” Bradshaw wrote at the time.

She also accused Zynga of ripping off other game developers as well, and said she hopes this lawsuit will put an end to the practice.

There is a certain irony to all of this: since EA began to lawsuit against Zynga, the Ville has essentially crashed and burned.

Earlier this week, in advance of its quarterly earnings reports, Zynga CEO Mark Pincus sent a note to employees, in which he outlined a number of changes coming to the company, including massive layoffs and the shutting down of numerous games. While the Ville is not being shut down completely, it definitely seems to be going down that road.

“We are sunsetting 13 older games and we’re also significantly reducing our investment in The Ville,” Pincus wrote.

Seems like, no matter who comes out ahead with the lawsuit, EA has already won.

Zynga and Electronic Arts could not be reached for comment.

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