A million years ago, there was a brilliant tabletop game called “BattleTech”. You know the whole “pilots getting into the giant robot and then getting in fights with other pilots in other giant robots” thing? Yeah, this was that. You may not know that there is a *LOT* of drama circulating around BattleTech and has been since the early 80’s. Like, *COURTROOM* drama.
In 1982, Studio Nue and Big West created a great little cartoon called “Macross”. This had pilots getting into giant robots and then getting in fights. The giant robots were really awesome too. They had one that was a transformer… like, it’s a robot! Now it’s a plane! Now it’s a robot again!
(This clip is from a more recent show, but you’ll get the general idea of how *AWESOME* this was.)
Of course, the original show was awesome enough that a bunch of kids in the USA would want to watch it. A company called “Harmony Gold” got the distribution rights to the show. The show was a huge hit in the US to the point where it inspired some folks to make a tabletop game that used the giant robots in the show. (The original game was called “Battledroids” but Lucas sued because he claime ownership of the word “droid”. So it got renamed to “BattleTech” and everybody was happy.)
Anyway, Harmony Gold saw that mechs based on designs in Macross were in the game and they started suing the heck out of the tabletop people. The argument, as far as I understand it, is that Harmony Gold had the rights to commercialize Macross as part of their distribution rights. This game was commercializing Macross and, by having mechs based on the mechs in the show, this game was violating Harmony Gold’s copyright.
So the game said “fine, we’ll just get rid of the offending mechs” and came up with several dozen mechs that were not so similar to the ones in Macross. This resulted in awesome mechs no longer being in the game. The Valkyrie, the Marauder, the Warhammer, a whole bunch of mechs. Poof. Gone. (The original books now fetch a pretty penny.)
Well, Harmony Gold has been suing people who design mechs that even look halfway like the original Macross ones. Like, if there’s a mech in the background of your game that looks like a Marauder if you squint? Bam. Lawsuit. (Luckily, this most recent lawsuit against the BattleTech game guys got dismissed with prejudice because, seriously, nobody could mistake a Locust for a Marauder.)
What seems to be coming out now is that Harmony Gold’s claims to copyright are based on them purchasing the copyright from the people who made the original movie… except that the people who made the movie did not own the copyright of the mechs in question. Some other company did.
And so, for the last 36 years, Harmony Gold has been suing people over a copyright claim (based on a license to distribute) that they might not even be holding and, get this, have *NEVER* held.
It’s the Happy Birthday thing, all over again.
And it’s ironic that this is finally being discovered a few short years prior to Harmony Gold’s distribution license expiring in 2021.
So… what are you playing?
(Picture is HG Wells playing a war game from Illustrated London News (25 January 1913[/efn_note]