UK developer Rebellion's case against Ironclad Games and Stardock Entertainment has been dismissed by a U.S. judge on First Amendment grounds.
The UK studio filed suit
against the developer and publisher of Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion
in 2012, claiming that the use of the word "Rebellion" in the title of the game would cause confusion -- implying to consumers that Rebellion, not Ironclad, developed the game.
Judge Victoria A. Roberts dismissed Rebellion's claim after applying the so-called "Rogers test," a two-pronged examination of creative works which examines whether the title in question is relevant to the work and if it's deliberately misleading as to the source or content of the work.
Judge Roberts determined that in neither case did Ironclad and Stardock infringe, writing
[PDF link] that "the Court finds that the word Rebellion has artistic relevance to Defendants' work," and "Nothing on the face of the pleadings indicate that Defendants engaged in overt misrepresentation by using the term Rebellion in the title of their computer game." These two statements cover the two prongs of the Rogers test.
It's worth mentioning that the game is set against the backdrop of a civil war, as Roberts notes in her judgment. She also took pains to point out many prior examples of games being treated as expressive works by the courts -- meaning they are granted First Amendment protection.
Ironclad's Blair Fraser greatly expands
on the background of the case and the ruling in a post on the Sins of a Solar Empire
"This judgement is an important result for anyone developing games and for the gaming community as a whole. First, it reaffirms that video games are protected by the First Amendment. Second, it establishes that artistically relevant video game names are also protected by the First Amendment so long as the name isn't explicitly misleading about the content of the game or who created it. Finally, it demonstrates that a First Amendment defense of a video game can be successfully applied to a motion to dismiss thus 'preventing a chilling effect on speech.' This last point is particularly important to smaller developers who cannot afford to enter a lengthy and expensive court battle. We are very proud that this judgement could help others in the future," Fraser writes.
In the post, Fraser notes that his studio is moving forward with plans to trademark Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion
. However, he writes that Rebellion appears to be moving against this in Canada and the UK.
Want to know more about the game? You can read a postmortem
of the game written by Fraser and Stardock's Chris Bray published not long after its summer 2012 release.