Harmony Gold Is At It Again…

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


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


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.


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.

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42 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.

      1. Chris S.

        With thanks to Drew for pointing it out, might it also be prudent to REMOVE this particular exchange, ASAP? I think Drew would be happy for this to be done, esp if anyone adds any e.g. footnote to say “Thanks to Drew for highlighting an important point” or some such…

  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.

    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)).

      1. Chris S.

        We can hope for TWO things, then:

        1) that PGI / HBS / etc have been in conctact (or agreed licenses) with said sources [Crusher Joe, Dougram] and/or to CLARIFY “inspiration” rather than “copyright infringement”

        2) that such examples WILL form the basis of PICTORIAL DEFENCE in the courts,
        “Your Honor,
        We submit to the court, defence supplementary exhibits A through G, illustrating the factual MISREPRESENTATION of the plaintiff that our designs are anything to do with theirs, and further that our designs are (licensed from / inspired by / similar to / whatever ) the examples contained therein, specifying IPs such as Crusher Joe and Dougram, and we categorically deny & disclaim any copyright infringement of plaintiff’s IP, nor that our designs constitute any derivative works as plaintiff alleges. Finally, we would like to re-emphasize that the plaintiff actually has no legal foundation on which to bring this lawsuit, as their originating licensor in fact had no legal position from which to grant plaintiff their alleged license!”

        .. or some such… :P

  3. Hawk819

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

    1. Chris S.

      More like… someone at Harmony Gold needs a financial bailout, and these lawsuits are greedy attempts at making BattleTech IP pay for their (HG’s) original licensing gaffe with Tatsunoko…

      Just another example of how “money is evil”…

      However, the Truth of the matter is this:
      Money is not evil at all — it’s the greedy bass-turds that are the evil ones! >_<

  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?

    1. Sean Post author

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

      1. Chris S.

        Totally agree with you here, Sean!

        In Japan, they use YY/MM/DD, but that’s still “sensible”, in the sense of Large-Medium-Small, in “reverse size order”. I note that this use is ESPECIALLY HANDY when FILENAMING PHOTOS since, even if you can use the “creation date” file tag, actually having the date in the filename is handy…

        .. and (European) 01032017 being 1st March 2017 is “alphabetically” ordered “before” 02022017 2nd Feb..!
        .. which we KNOW is wrong. :P

        European dates, in “small-Medium-LARGE” order of dd/mm/yy makes excellent sense, of course!

        Who the heck knows why anyone thought the mixed-up-mother-goose version of “medium-small-large” mm/dd/yy ought to be used in the USA..??

        Frankly, I think some of the originators of the country — ie those who Rebelled against the originating Empire (but not necessarily those who governed it immediately thereafter, aka “Our Forefathers”) — were so bitter they wanted to “differentiate” themselves significantly from the United Kingdom (and much of the rest of the world at the time), and swapped the dating usage around… OH, and also dropped the letter “u” from lots of words, cuz Lazy, too. ;)

        What floors me is that, whilst at Purdue, I actually came across a few people in California (and some in Jersey!) who truly believed that “American English” came BEFORE “British English”… :O

        How does America let any of its people get so … disillusioned?
        Wait… I forget … you also have a “new & different” kind of President… ;)

        Ahh… Change. Never Easy, but ALWAYS filled with Opportunities for Learning! :D

  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!

  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!

    1. Chris S.

      Lee Harvey Oswald was a turkey, a patsy, a fall-guy, a cover-up… ;)

      Something about his -handedness not matching the gun allegedly used to kill JFK.
      Something else about his disposition in general.
      … and the utter look of confusion in his face, in the video footage Everyone has seen…

      … and did you know that President Bush (Sr) can be seen in (more than one??) photo from the Mall on the day in question… as he was an Agent on the Scene in those days..? :D

  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.

    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.

      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.

        1. Chris S.

          This is correct.
          Studio Nue originated the designs in question.
          SN partnered with Big West.

          Tatsunoko “licensed” to HG, but Tats themselves had licensed FROM SN (before Big West).
          … but it appears that Tats didn’t have the rights to re- or sub-license, which would effectively INVALiDATE HG’s ORIGINAL “License” AB INITIO.

          I believe that’s how that goes. ;)

          PS – I love that bit of legalese – “ab initio” – it just sounds so goooood :D

  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.

    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.

  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.

  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.

  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.

  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.

  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

  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.

  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.

  16. madcat88

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

    1. Adam Barker

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

  17. Carlyle

    Just wish there was something Us the Fans of Battletech could do to get HG out of the picture. I had to go years Playing MW games with out the Unseen. Finally starting to get them and there messing with it again. HG and Robotech have been dead since the decade they came out in time to let it go HG

    1. Nilok

      Us fans of Macross wish the exact same thing.

      Their actions have been preventing anything from the actual Macross series from being released in the US.

      They have been nothing but a blight on both franchises.

  18. ex-sell69

    Harmony Gold is an evil blood sucking parasite company that has no integrity, that suffers from a bad case of diarrhea from the mouth, where every word that does come out of their mouths makes me sick to my stomach! Now, see what Harmony Gold has been doing for all these years, right up to this day… In Robotech fans minds, if Harmony Gold had the rights to all of Macross (and not just SDF Macross), they would change their ways and become a respectable company that only wants to promote anime… And this is why Robotech fans are known as being delusional!
    And so my point is: The only people that benefits from blackmail, are the people who are doing the blackmailing… While their victoms are used and discarded, because if Harmony Gold were to start respecting the creators of Macross as people by name (BREAKING NEWS: JAPAN HAS PEOPLE WITH NAMES TOO!), they would have to admit these were the people they’ve wronged for all these years (Harmony Gold – celebrating the Macross 35th anniversary by keeping it in licensing hell)!
    All hail lord Shoji Kawamori! Long live Macross! Death to Harmony Gold!

  19. roadwish

    Any chances those useless twatts that by pure luck got their hands on Battletech franchise will go bust and we will have the chance to play BT game in our lifetime?

  20. Tolrick

    As I recall, the designs in the original lawsuit, Archer, Warhammer, and so on, were specifically named (hence the amusing apellation of ‘Unseen’).
    How then, can Harmony Gold come out and now say, “Oh yeah, we forgot to include this stuff in the last suit.” Ship sailed, show’s over, it’s done. This ignoring the fact HG may not even own the IP copyrights they claim.

    I saw a mini this GenCon of the redesigned Warhammer. It looks -NOTHING- like the original disputed version. Yes, the original was the same image as a Destroid. The Phoenix Hawk and a few others looked exactly like a Veritech. FASA stopped using them though, so HG should shut up about it now. I’m sure those folks have more than a few plagiarized stories and images.
    HBS images though, even considering they might be vaguely similar shows the viewer to need glasses, a psychological exam, and a few kicks to the ass.

    The closest I have ever gotten to Robotech was, I played in a pen & paper RPG years ago. The core canon story didn’t impress me. Just more of the same, I’ll go watch SB Yamato, thanks.
    A few friends told me it’s gotten cooler over the years, but with this obvious money grab and arrogant claim on things that aren’t theirs, I’ll stay even further away now.

  21. Flashpoint

    You don’t get to go ‘whoops, forgot one’ when some of the designs in question have been iconic originals to the series for well over 30 years, especially considering that the Atlas has existed in some form or fashion in video games since 1995 (with Ghost Bear’s Legacy).

    At this stage I feel that Harmony Gold are ill-faith patent trolls of the highest order. As an attendee of a fair number of anime cons, they have become fully irrelevant to their core audience where mentions of Robotech bring blank stares from many or scowls from those more in the know. I fully suspect that they’re only going after Battletech because they are too cowardly to try their luck against Hasbro again, after their latest suit came to naught.

    We can only hope that Harmony Gold will wither and die on their sad little vine sooner rather than later.

  22. Mario

    Harmony gold just needs to give up and die already. Almost no one has heard of Robotech, and those who have probably have a negative view of them just because of these stupid law suits. They are just trying to stay relevant with a couple of designs they have and it is sad. Even if they win, all that will happen is that the mechs will get redesigned and they will make a couple more enemies on the way that will probably hurt their sales or what is left of them. These pointless lawsuits just show what kind of petty people run harmony gold, the kind of people who terrible people who don’t need to exist in today’s society. The last thing we need is sleazy people survive on others, Harmony gold is the equivilant of a person that gets rear ended in a parking lot at 2 mph and the sues for a broken back and massive damage to their car when there clearly isn’t any. I hope HG looses this case and get fined for wasting every body’s time and resources with this BS law suit.

    1. Drmayeda

      I hope the trial judge lowers the boom on HG and makes them pay court costs and legal fees for BOTH sides plus penalties for a nuisance lawsuit.

  23. Jim Gladstone

    Is it possible for all the Battletech fans to band together and launch a counter class action against HG for attempting to ruin a beautiful world? I am hanging out for the new Battletech and MechWarrior games and if this delays their release it will cause me emotional, psychological and potential physical distress LOL!

  24. Allen Helmer

    You might want to rewrite that last paragraph. It makes you sound like you want PGI and HBS to lose the case.

  25. Mark

    Not to resurrect this thread but the Trial date appears to be ” Jury Trial is set for 2/4/2019 before Judge Thomas S. Zilly”. I would like to see HG get slammed and counter sued for costs.


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