Ubisoft's four-part (with a fifth on the way) Assassin's Creed series is one of the most popular game franchises around, but at least one person is not impressed. A sci-fi novelist just filed a lawsuit asking for up to $5.25 million from Ubisoft, claiming that the developer lifted one of the game's key concepts from one of his self-published novels.
In Assassin's Creed, the main character accesses the memories and even the assassin abilities of his ancestors through a device called Animus, the franchise's key sci-fi component. Author John L. Beiswenger filed a hefty copyright infringement suit against Ubisoft Monday in a Pennsylvania district court, claiming that the entire idea of the Animus was lifted from his 2003 novel, Link.
"In Link, the Plaintiff's plot includes the conception and creation of a device and process whereby ancestral memories can be accessed, recalled, relived and re-experienced by the user," the lawsuit says.
It then goes on to copy lengthy excerpts from Beiswenger's book, like this one:
"If John Wilkes Booth fathered a child after he assassinated Lincoln, and we found a descendant alive today, we could place Booth at the scene and perhaps smell the gunpowder." "Ancestral memories?" "As far back as you want."
Based on these similarities Beiswenger is aiming to earn compensation from each of the four Assassin's Creed games released so far, along with all spinoff material, including guidebooks, comic books and other merchandise. So, does he have a case?
According to Mark Methenitis, a Dallas attorney who blogs about the legal issues of the gaming world at Law of the Game, probably not.
"The level of comparison they're trying to make would be along the lines of both Back to the Future and Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure have time machines as plot devices, so one must be infringing the other," he said. "A copyright does not protect abstract ideas at that level."
So it looks like Ubisoft will end up in the clear, but that hasn't stopped the fan rage. Several new review entries have popped up on the Amazon item page for Link just in the last day or so, nearly all of them bashing the novel and bemoaning the possibility that the lawsuit could delay the release of Assassin's Creed III later this year. That's probably not a worry even worth having at this point, but the flood of comments to the page is proof that you don't want to mess with hardcore gamers. Just ask BioWare.