In a recent saga that has been developing between video game developer and publisher Bethesda—most notable for their game The Elder Scrolls: Morrowind—began litigation against Notch, aka Markus Persson—best known for his blazing hit MMO Minecraft. The lawsuit stems from a new game that he’s been developing that he’s decided to entitle Scrolls and whereupon he attempted to get a trademark for that name in preparation for its eventual release, Bethesda took umbrage at the similarity to their game The Elder Scrolls game series.
Shortly after filing for a registration of the trademark, Bethesda’s legal department contacted Notch to question him about it and pointed out how Scrolls is part of the name of The Elder Scrolls.
“[They] claimed it conflicted with their existing trademark ‘The Elder Scrolls’,” writes Notch, with no small note of confusion. “I agree that the word ‘Scrolls’ is part of that trademark, but as a gamer, I have never ever considered that series of (very good) role playing games to be about scrolls in any way, nor was that ever the focal point of neither their marketing nor the public image.”
Eventually the remark from Bethesda expanded into a cease-and-desist order sent from a Swedish legal firm—apparently connected to Bethesda—that included a threat of a lawsuit along with demands for a boatload of money from Notch for simply attempting to register the trademark.
At the time, Notch felt that this may have been some sort of automatic reflex on the part of Bethesda to him registering a trademark with a passing similarity to one of theirs. Of course, it looks more like they’re laying the groundwork to bully him out of it by requesting a bunch of money even before they’ve begun the legal processes.
Yesterday, Notch decided to…kick it up a notch.
In a blog post addressed to Bethesda he’s requested the right to trial by combat.
“I challenge Bethesda to a game of Quake 3,” proclaims Notch, proudly offering the gauntlet to his esteemed legal foe. “Three of our best warriors against three of your best warriors. We select one level, you select the other, we randomize the order. 20 minute matches, highest total frag count per team across both levels wins.”
While I wouldn’t have chosen Quake 3 myself, it seems like an excellent arena to test the mettle of the champions of both sides. However, the legal veracity of which a duel might be questionable. Notch might want to get his legal team to draft a contract that causes the outcome to become binding.
The stakes are simple, he explains: “If we win, you drop the lawsuit. If you win, we will change the name of Scrolls to something you’re fine with.”
Champion trial-by-combat is an old tradition that has grown out of a multitude of cultures who sometimes used the show of armed prowess as a deciding factor between armies to reduce bloodshed. However, contemporary societies including Sweden and the United States—the respective countries the contestants are headquartered in—have grown into legalistic bureaucracies and generally settle things using regulations and money.
Perhaps Bethesda’s sovereigns will see this challenge to their honor and rise to the occasion; by doing so, they could set aside their differences and get a lot of good PR out of what looks like a witless move on their part. While the word “scroll” is part of The Elder Scrolls it’s hardly likely any sane person purchasing Scrolls would mistake it for Bethesda’s product and while they have a chance of winning in a court system with few gamer geeks in it, they will look very bad beating up on an indie game developer like Notch with as much popularity as he has.