The Sims Maker Electronic Arts Sues Zynga for Copyright Infringement; Zynga Countersues

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Sep 17, 2012

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Popular life simulation video game The Sims hit stores in 2001. Facebook interactive life game The Ville came out in 2012. So, which was the original virtual life simulator? … Neither. 

According to The Ville maker, Zynga, Activision’s Little Computer People was the original. After The Sims creator, Electronic Arts (EA), filed a lawsuit last month claiming Zynga copied The Sims for The Ville, Zynga is now countersuing EA with accusations that EA copied Activision.  

“In other words, it was Activision—not EA—that first developed the ideas found in The Sims Social, and it was Zynga—not EA—that first brought the concept to Facebook,” Zynga said, according to this article. What a mess. 

In early August, EA brought the copyright infringement suit against Zynga, who specializes in social online gaming, claiming that The Ville is too similar to The Sims, and also claiming that key employees were lured away from the company to help create Zynga’s The Ville. Zynga called the claim “baseless” and is now bringing a countersuit against EA for not allowing employees to leave their firm to work for Zynga. 

The counterclaim “addresses actions by EA we believe to be anticompetitive and unlawful business practices, including legal threats and demands for no-hire agreements,” The Ville makers said in a claim reported by the Los Angeles Times. The two San Francisco-based firms are now in a heated legal battle. 

Zynga argues EA threatened the company with legal action if it recruited more EA employees. “EA spokesman John Reseburg, vehemently denied Zynga’s claims, calling attention to a number of top executives who have quit Zynga in recent months, including Karp and Schappert,” the Los Angeles Times reports.  

While the original lawsuit included issues of copyright infringement, the legal matter now turns to anti-competition laws, also known as antitrust laws. Such laws are set in place to stop any one firm from dominating a market, among other goals; and the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890 is the federal statute that lays out the details. 

Zynga’s counterclaims that EA is using unlawful business methods to keep employees at their firm, and prevent them from benefiting another, would fall under Section 2 of the Sherman Act, forbidding monopolies from existing in any given industry. The intention is not to punish businesses that have gotten to a dominant position through respectable and lawful means, only those that have used flawed business practices to get there. Zynga is accusing EA of using such practices. 

The outcome to the ongoing legal troubles between The Sims and The Ville makers will play out in the coming months. EA’s original copyright infringement claim will likely not hold legal merit, but the issue of antitrust violations could cause a bigger fuss. 

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