Judge Winnows Claims in ‘Warcraft’ Infringement Saga

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – Video game behemoth Blizzard’s legal fight with Chinese competitor Lilith Games ended in a draw Thursday, with a federal judge finding it failed to show Lilith’s mobile game “Soul Hunters” rips off its hit franchises Starcraft and Diablo.

While Blizzard did successfully show that Soul Hunters infringed its popular Warcraft series and its derivative online multiplayer game Heroes of the Storm, U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer dismissed Blizzard’s copyright claims against Lilith as to Starcraft and Diablo; finding no specific examples of infringement that extend to those games.

“Because plaintiffs sufficiently allege representative examples with respect to at least one version of the Warcraft games, DotA, Dota 2, Hearthstone, and Heroes of the Storm, they state a plausible claim of infringement against Soul Hunters with respect to these games,” Breyer wrote. “With respect to Diablo and Starcraft, however, Lilith’s argument has more merit.”

The battle over copyrightable content began back in 2015, when Blizzard Entertainment and Valve Corp. jointly sued Lilith for stealing characters and designs from their mutually owned “World of Warcraft” franchise, which includes several versions of Warcraft, Starcraft, Diablo and Defense of the Ancients, also known as “DotA” and “DotA 2.”

While Warcraft takes place in the fantastical world of Azeroth inhabited by mythical creatures like dark elves, the beast-like Tauren, and serpentine Naga, Breyer noted that Diablo and Starcraft “entirely different franchises” set in different worlds with different characters. Diablo features a grim underworld populated with angels and demons. The aptly-named Starcraft is set in space and centers on a battle for galactic dominance among four alien species.

In December 2015, Breyer dismissed the case because Blizzard and Valve failed to show that their games contained any “copyrightable” material. They had also made only the barest claims of infringement with no specific examples, Breyer said.

In 2017, the plaintiffs filed an amended complaint that seemed to satisfy the judge as to some of the games, but not all.

“Two and a half years after the commencement of this case, we are back where we started (perhaps a little wiser but certainly no younger),” Breyer wrote in his most recent ruling.

“Lilith argues that plaintiffs do not plausibly allege substantial similarity between Soul Hunters and Diablo and Starcraft. Lilith is right: although the [second amended complaint] plausibly alleges copyrightable elements in both Starcraft and Diablo, it contains no specific examples (representative or otherwise) of Soul Hunters allegedly infringing these copyrightable elements,” Breyer wrote.

Though Breyer found Blizzard failed to state a copyright infringement claim against Lilith for Diablo and Starcraft, he emphasized this only applies to Soul Hunters, saying, “To be clear, only the Diablo and Starcraft claims against Soul Hunters are dismissed; those against Lilith’s other games are not.”

Blizzard and Valve had also sued uCool, the California-based company behind Heroes Charge, for stealing characters and designs from Starcraft, Diablo, and Heroes of the Storm.

In the same order, Breyer denied uCool’s motion to dismiss, finding substantial similarities between uCool’s War Chief and Rifleman characters and King Leoric from Diablo and Terran Marine from Starcraft.

Breyer nixed uCool’s argument that King Leoric and Terran Marine are just generic skeleton king and space soldier characters, finding photos submitted by Blizzard show that the characters are pretty specific.

Attorneys for all three parties did not respond to emails seeking comment Friday.

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