The card game of Sabacc has always been associated with dealings of dubious legality in the Star Wars universe (it’s how the Millenium Falcon changed hands), but its real-life adaptations have been following a bit too closely in its thematic footsteps. When Ren Ventures began selling Sabacc as a mobile game (with the exact rules as the in-universe game) back in 2015, applying for - and eventually registering - a U.S. trademark for the term “Sabacc,” Disney wasn’t having it.
Now, the lawsuit the company filed last December has been ruled in favor of Star Wars. According to The Hollywood Reporter, California U.S District Court Judge Richard Seeborg ruled that Ren Ventures violated copyrights belonging to Disney’s Lucasfilm. However, Seeborg is reserving the question of willful infringement for a jury to decide.
Discussing Star Wars GIFs online and the DVDs showing Sabacc being discussed in the Star Wars films, the judge determined that Ren Ventures’ use of the material was not transformative and rejected a fair use defense. Just because others were using Star Wars material for their own purposes doesn’t mean that Lucasfilm lacks copyright protections on that material, the judge ruled.
And yet, with more tricks up its sleeve than Lando Calrissian playing against a young Han Solo, Ren Ventures has another interesting line of defense: their use of the material may not have actively and intentionally infringed on copyright.
The judge commented that "evidence of defendants’ awareness of the Works falls short of establishing actual awareness of infringing activity. While defendants arguably demonstrated reckless disregard or willful blindness in failing at least to investigate whether their conduct infringed upon Lucasfilm’s copyright interests, that is a question of material fact properly reserved for determination by a jury.” That means ultimately, Ren Ventures did violate the copyright but that its intent (malicious or simply ignorant) would need to be a matter sussed out by a jury.
And as for trademarks? That’s a whole different story and an entirely different lawsuit - one where Ren Ventures is suing Disney, saying that the studio’s marketing for Solo infringes upon its rights as the creators of the mobile game. This is far from over and may have as many reversals as a night of Sabacc on the big screen, but as for now, Star Wars has the upper hand.