Last Friday, a representative from PUBG Corporation – developers of widely-popular battle royale shooter PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds – announced they had filed a copyright violation lawsuit against Epic Games’ Fortnite, for its similarity to PUBG.
The two titles have had somewhat of a tumultuous relationship as they fight over an explosive battle royale audience; while our knowledge of the lawsuit is limited at this point, there’s a lot to consider in weighing out the results of a potential case.
What we know
“We filed the suit to protect our copyright,” the company told the Korea Times.
This is about the extent of which is confirmed on the lawsuit thus far, a lot of speculation is floating around regarding how the two might clash in court and what this could mean for the future of Fortnite if found guilty of copyright infringement – let’s get into what we do know.
Both PUBG and Fortnite share an undeniable likeness to one another; last-man-standing shooters where 100 players jump from the sky and scavenge for items presents arguments for the similarity of the games. While PUBG was up and running well before Fortnite was, the concept of battle royale or last-man-standing isn’t new at all; even Minecraft and GTA V sported their own battle royale variant at one point before PUBG hit the market. If PUBG Corp plans on arguing on the basis that Epic Games is infringing copyright by making a game within the same genre, they’ll likely be unsuccessful in their case without stronger foundation.
PUBG and Fortnite share DNA in the form of Unreal Engine, a suite of tools for game developers to design and build games. Both battle royale giants were made in Unreal Engine, which is owned by Epic Games; the only plausible case we can gather PUBG could form is that Epic Games lifted existing code from what PUBG had created and either implemented it directly or enhanced it for Fortnite. There’s still very little known about the case itself right now, we’ll likely have to wait this one out to see how exactly it unfolds.
Imitate vs. recreate
Copyright is a bit of a sensitive subject – the legal rights ensure creators of original work bear the exclusive rights of its use and distribution. A grey area exists in deeming copyright infringement, and there is always the age-old debate between what is imitating and what is recreating. Fair use is a murky territory within copyright law, essentially it allows for copywritten material to be used to an extent before infringing upon the rights to exclusivity. Whether use can be considered fair use or not can only be resolved in federal court, therefore predicting the result of a PUBG Corp vs Epic Games legal quarrel would be a long shot – however, we can make some assumptions based on what is typically looked at in these cases (if it makes it to court). If it’s discovered Epic Games lifted code directly from PUBG without modifying it they’ll have some sort of case on their hands. Then again, if it’s found Epic tweaked existing codes into something new or different, they’ll likely have the upper-hand in this dispute. Mind you, a potential plagiarism of PUBG’s code on behalf of Epic’s Fortnite is only speculation.
Epic did reference PUBG in the development of Fortnite’s battle royale variant though, stating “We love battle royale games like PUBG and thought Fortnite would make a great foundation for our own version”. So while the question of imitation still looms, there was certainly an inspiration behind Fortnite’s own last-man-standing game mode. Epic Games could have potentially sealed their own fate however by publicly announcing their motivation from PUBG to create their own battle royale mode; using another game’s brand to promote your own may be subject to legal penalty – another limb protected under copyright law. Even then, infringement of this nature is subjective to the courts, so there’s no telling whether Epic can be referenced in violation of their statement including PUBG or not.
Lastly, it’s important to note that the colossal Chinese gaming developer and investor Tencent is now in the crossfire as a result of the Fortnite and PUBG feud. With Tencent holding 40% of Epic Games and reportedly planning on investing $470 million into PUBG developers Bluehole, the dispute is going to cause some additional abrasiveness. It may be possible the lawsuit gets dropped solely based off Tencent’s large involvement.
Esports Insider says: With little mention of the case details besides it being a copyright violation suit, we’re going to have to wait until this allegation unfolds before we start learning more about it. If the lawsuit does, in fact, make it to the courtroom, we suspect the question of imitation versus inspiration will be a dominant theme. We’ll be sure to keep an eye on the case and provide updates along the way.