Harmony Gold Is At It Again…

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Yup. You read that right. Harmony Gold is at it again with another round of lawsuits aimed at BattleTech IP.

The story broke a few days ago (thanks to user Clanfighter for the comment tip!), and the Harebrained Schemes (HBS) and MechWarrior Online forums are ablaze. There’s a lot of vitriol being spewed (rightly) against Harmony Gold for being litigious parasites and trying to cash in on BattleTech‘s and MechWarrior Online’s success, and while that’s certainly true, there’s a little more to it than that.

First, let’s take a look at the actual lawsuit itself. Court documents filed last March by the law firm Calfo Eakes & Ostrovsky PLLC reveal that Harmony Gold is suing both Harebrained Schemes and PGI for copyright infringement on their Robotech imagery, which so far sounds just like what happened with the Unseen saga. That ended with Catalyst Game Labs releasing new artwork for the unseen ‘Mechs, and we all thought everything was done for good.

Harmony Gold apparently felt differently. The new suit names PGI as the primary defendants, saying the current models used for the Rifleman, Archer, Warhammer, Marauder and Phoenix Hawk are similar enough to the original Robotech images that they infringe the copyright. It also names HBS as another defendant saying that their use of the Atlas, Locust, and Shadowhawk are too similar to their property to be used in the upcoming BattleTech game.

Marauder PHawk

via unitedstatescourts.org

I took out some of the images filed in the court documents so we can take a look. For the complaint against PGI, you can maybe make an argument they’re similar but so similar they infringe? That’s harder to say. I’m no lawyer, but I do know that courts often look to specifics rather than general shapes when determining these kinds of cases, and you can easily spot dozens of differences between the two designs being compared.

Warhammer Archer

via unitedstatescourts.org

Rifleman

via unitedstatescourts.org

The pictures being used against HBS look even less alike. In fact, the whole argument seems spurious at best. An Atlas looks like a Crusader? A Shadowhawk looks like an Archer? A Locust looks like a Marauder? These ‘Mechs don’t even share the same silhouette, let alone any specific details. It’s like Harmony Gold is trying to say that nobody else can have giant robots since they have a passing resemblance to their giant robots.

Atlas Shadowhawk

via unitedstatescourts.org

Locust

via unitedstatescourts.org

The case against HBS is sure to be tossed as soon as it goes before a judge. The case for PGI might linger on, but I’m fairly confident that PGI has prepared for this day and has numerous counter arguments to keep their game safe.

The case against HBS is sure to be tossed as soon as it goes before a judge.

There were a few more interesting tidbits to be gleaned from the court docs. Apparently, PGI had been in contact with Harmony Gold in 2013 when they were planning on releasing the Warhammer and Marauder ‘Mechs in MechWarrior Online. Both times Harmony Gold said the submitted designs were too similar and infringed on their copyright. We don’t know what those earlier designs might have looked like, but you can see from the images above that the current models for the Warhammer and Marauder are very different from the original Robotech designs.

Also mentioned in the suit is how Harmony Gold “discovered” the infringing materials. Evidently, it was an old news post by Catalyst Game Labs on their partnership with PGI in creating some “lore vignettes” in 2016. The blog post featured a schematic image of the Warhammer, which was released in MechWarrior Online in January 2016. Both the Marauder and the Marauder IIC were released later in 2016.

Warhammer

via unitedstatescourts.org

It says something about how confident PGI is in their position that they still released both the Marauder and Warhammer despite having the court documents filed just before their release in MWO.

So why is Harmony Gold pursuing this case when they seem to have a very good chance of losing? Well, they could be hoping for a quick settlement with both PGI and HBS, however, given the strength of their defense, I doubt either would be inclined to let Harmony Gold win this time.

On the other hand, Harmony Gold has a very good reason to pursue this case as aggressively as they can. The Robotech live action movie is going full steam ahead, and there are probably plans to have both game and action figure tie-ins with the movie. Nevermind the fact the movie has no script, no cast, and has just recently changed directors to the same guy that did Stephen King’s It adaptation.

Harmony Gold could also be using this case as a means of testing the legal waters for a future lawsuit against MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries.

Harmony Gold could also be using this case as a means of testing the legal waters for a future lawsuit against MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries. We know that PGI’s upcoming single-player game will feature some of the Unseen designs, and if it’s as financially successful as it’s expected to be (and if the Robotech movie doesn’t crash and burn like every other live-action anime movie) then Harmony Gold could stand to make a bundle.

One thing for certain is that neither PGI nor HBS is likely to comment on the case anytime soon as the trial is set for September of 2018. Here’s hoping they lose, and badly.

25 thoughts on “Harmony Gold Is At It Again…

  1. Drew

    Hey Sean, I think “We know that PGI’s upcoming single-player game will feature some of the Robotech designs,” sells the designs as Harmony Gold property which I think you are arguing against.

    Reply
  2. Vincent

    First of all the Atlas was not copied off of the Armored Valkyrie. The Crusader was copied from the Armored Valkyrie. Second The Locust was not taken from the Zentradi Officers Battlepod. The Locust was taken from a series called Crusher Joe. A lot of the Aerospace fighters were taken from Crusher Joe too.

    Reply
    1. Vincent

      Also the Shadow Hawk is from Dougram: Fang of the Sun (So are the Griffin, Wolverine, Thunderbolt, Battle Master, Scorpion (Quad) and the Goliath (Quad)).

      Reply
  3. Hawk819

    Yep. And the current Crusader (i.e. Project Phoenix) is no where near the Armored Valkyrie design. Someone @ Harmony Gold needs glasses.

    Reply
  4. Frabby

    The original lawsuit was filed 01 March 2017 (not January). And it may be worth noting that HBS, Piranha Games, CGL et al aren’t using “unseen” artwork – and haven’t for over two decades. Where BattleMechs are concerned that used to be represented by unseen artwork, new art has been commissioned.
    This new lawsuit is now about two questions:
    1) Does Harmony Gold even have the IP they claim to possess (in the light of a 2003 court ruling in Japan), and/or the right to sue others based on their purported IP;
    2) and if so, is the new art from Piranha Games (licensed to HBS) and the different new art from CGL still so similar to the original Japanese artwork as to constitute an infringement?

    Reply
    1. Sean Post author

      Ugh! Stupid inconsistent dating formats! Why can’t we all be like Europe and standardize everything?! Fixed to say march.

      Reply
  5. Richard

    Harmony gold sux! They have been holding up things for years we could have had a battle tech movie by now if not for them. Robot tech was crap anyway the story was boreing. I want be watching the new movie!

    Reply
  6. crimsonfalke

    Anyone know how to resurrect Lee Harvey Oswald? I think we Frankenstein the dude and just handle this the CIA and be done with!

    Reply
  7. UnDeadFish

    As I understand it, HG doesn’t even own the IP. As Frabby mentioned; doesn’t a Japanese company own those rights? Why doesn’t HBS and Piranha get in contact with this Japanese cimpany and formulate a counter lawsuit? Correct me if I’m wrong but didn’t the Riaa and the Mpaa use something similar to attack the Pirate Bay? Using foriegn interests to sue ib a thitd party capacity.

    As much as I’m sure many people have issues with the double A’s, the precedence has been established. A double sided attack on HG could be used to finally put this to rest after 25 years of complete BS.

    Reply
    1. Spiral Hunter

      I might be wrong, but to the best of my knowledge when it comes to anime the Japanese company will own the IP, but an shell/mouthpiece company will be created to handle things like advertising, voice dubbing, distribution, legal actions, and royalties for them in America.

      That’s how it seems to works with DBZ and a couple of other anime I enjoy anyway.

      Reply
      1. Breuger

        Afaik, you’re generally correct about that.

        However in this particular case, HG was found by a Japanese court to have gotten the rights from a company that was not legally able to sell those rights to them.

        Reply
  8. Solis Obscuri

    Harmony Gold never owned the IP. They did contract exclusive distribution rights for all the Studio Nue/Macross images and likenesses in the North American market in perpetuity… though by the time they did there were already other distributors already working those markets, which is where FASA had gotten license to use the art (and minis) in the first place.

    FASA considered their usage to be lawful and grandfathered into their own original work; HG considered their agreement with Studio Nue to supersede all prior contracts and agreements (certainly an optimistic legal position, but civil decisions often have more to do with who bullshits more confidently than in formalist interpretations if statute). However, it’s worth noting that HG never prevailed in court despite years of trying; it was only after Playmates licensed Robotech (originally Macross) likenesses such as the Destroid Phalanx for their Exosquad toy line (to be fair the cartoon was pretty darn good) and FASA sued Playmates and lost (probably both in part to Playmates’ bigger pockets and greater influence, and in part to both companies having similarly circuitous claims to the source material) that FASA backed off using the old art and mechs, citing the costliness of trying to defend the IP.

    Ultimately that didn’t amount to legal victory for HG; as far as I can find they had difficulty even bringing FASA to trial and never won anything. But it put FASA in an awkward position to have portions of their established IP being linked as derivative works to another IP they couldn’t control. This continued on with the “Reseen” going through cycles of ‘how-similar-is-too-similar’ in order to both satisfy fans and have grounds to defend copyright.

    I’m not sure what prompted the shift in approach with PGI, though their (well, Alex’s) more “industrial” artwork style is pretty distinct compared to old ’80s cartoons, so that may be part of the decision. At any rate, I think everyone at PGI/HBS is pretty well stuck in by now, and HGs claims may not be worth much in an entirely new medium (video games) given their distribution rights were written for toys and tv… not to mention that Japan doesn’t recognize them as a copyright holder and their case against Hasbro was dismissed with prejudice the last time they tried to pull their bullshit.

    I can’t imagine all the money laundering really improved their reputation, either.

    Reply
    1. Ogre4Hire

      Actually, the issue with Playmates was that they came out with a prototype Exosquad toy that was very obviously based on the Mad Cat omnimech.

      FASA actually won their suit against Playmates, but the judge ruled that they weren’t entitled to any money for it because it was a toy rather than a tabletop game and therefore hadn’t directly competed with Battletech or something.

      At that point, FASA realized that they might have some legal issues with the artwork for the unseen and voluntarily stopped using it before they could be sued.

      Reply
  9. Rob C.

    I suspect is going try to wear down PGI and other defendants by sheer wasting money in lawyers fees verse trying prove their point in court. Copyright Trolls is what HG are. Nothing productive is made, just money from lawsuits. They’re own worst enemy, destroying their own products never mind other seemly similar ones. I was happy how Hasbro smack them down hard about the Jetfire looking fighter jet they had.

    I wish there was way to raise money so they can fight HG and put them down once and for all. This will be never ending if they settle again.

    Reply
  10. Kaian

    Looking at the art work shown here. The top five look like someone painted a next generation of the same designs shown. IE an evolution of the same instead of being original. The bottom three look far too different from the drawings to be considered in this manner.
    And I swear I have seen the Warhammer and Archer poses in some of the licensed Robotech RPG books. Meaning the artist lifted the art they copied from elsewhere.
    Look at the archer and marauder feet. How hard is it to not clone that look? There has to be other examples they could use to portray these mechs and sidestep lawsuits.
    As to the IP. From what I understand. A company has to go after any and all possible infringements or it loses the rights. And the exclusivity of IP between Japan and U.S. has been part of the legal battles. They may have to do these lawsuits just to continue to negotiate on their original claims.

    Reply
  11. Mauther

    One of the problems with the copywrite is, for some weird reason, in the US Harmy Gold is credited as Co-Copywrite holder along with Tatsunoku for abroad, but Tatsunoku is only the copywrite holder in Japan. Macross is the intellectual property of Studio Nue and they control the rights to the images.

    So there’s an arguement to be made that Harmony not only doesn’t have standing to sue PGI and HBS, but they could even lose their hold on Robotech. That may be why Sony has held off actually finalizing the deal for the Robotech movie.

    BTW, anyone who thinks that Battletech is in trouble on this needs to remeber the Playmates lawsuit from back just before FASA closed. FASA won that suit and Playmates was blocked from using Battletech images.

    Reply
  12. kdogprime

    A Robotech live action movie? Let me pause while I laugh my ass off, then reattach my ass so I can sit down and laugh some more.

    Does Harmony Gold believe for one second that anyone who is a fan of either Battletech or Robotech will mistake one franchise’s mech designs for the other? For that matter, do they think the average movie-goer even knows what Robotech or Battletech is? The answer is; they don’t, and they don’t care either. The two franchises do not cross paths, and they aren’t likely to.

    If the Robotech movie ever comes out (and I have serious doubts it will), it’ll perform so poorly in the US and Europe that a sequel will never be made, and no one will remember it within five years. The only people who will buy the movie merchandise will be (likely pre-existing) Robotech fans, and they probably won’t be buying it from stores that sell Battletech kits or books. The two franchises have some similar designs, so what? They are completely different universes with entirely different settings. Should Harmony Gold sue Blizzard next because Starcraft 2’s Warhound resembles a Tomahawk?

    The timing of the lawsuit is most definitely linked to the movie, although usually a company will wait until a movie’s release is imminent before attempting to squash the competition, like Paramount did to Axanar Studios when Star Trek Beyond was about to be released.

    Reply
  13. qpan

    i think its funny that a series , that took a bunch of other IP stuff to visual tell there story in a mashup way ,is suing over Likenesses to the same visuals that they “borrowed” didnt create them selves . other than the character names , and some linking story elements is all a “borrowed” story taking a IP and changing cerain things dont make it a original product they really dont get it that there whole Robotech empire is a farce . of a much better richer story that came from japan , i wish those Japanese sue the crap out of HG for selling macross era merchendise , i think that IP agreement was never reissued by that owner , the only visual assets HG can use is the Mosopeda assests which the parent company doesnt exist in any form

    Reply
  14. Chris S.

    I hadn’t yet seen these comparisons, but the PGI concept art is extraordinarily similar. The Marauder and Shadow Hawk are a bit of a stretch, but the Warhammer, Archer, and Rifleman are almost carbon-copies.

    THAT SAID, isn’t this just concept art? I know the Marauder doesn’t look like that in-game, and it’s in-game model certainly looks different enough to not be infringing. Can you sue for concept art? Seems dubious to me.

    And the HBS comparisons are a ****ing joke. Waste of the court’s time and taxpayer dollars (but then again, so’s this whole lawsuit).

    Greedy idiots, as always.

    Reply
  15. xangpow

    I had to take a class for copyright and trademarks and if I remember right, HG HAS to file this suit. If the US courts agree HG holds the copyright, or co-copyright as Mauther said, then they could never sue if another company actually DID copy the images. So they have to lose this lawsuit so they can win any future lawsuits.

    Reply
  16. madcat88

    I believe it is time that the Inner Sphere AND Clans unite and put HG out of everyone’s misery

    Reply
    1. Adam Barker

      Once they do, HBS can finally release that Khan Era book they were joking about.
      Both are as likely.

      Reply

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