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Monday, July 15, 2024 | Back issues
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Roblox copyright suit against look-alike dolls survives dismissal bid

Both the avatars in the popular kids' online world and the dolls are "humanoid figures with cylindrical heads, C-shaped hands, block-shaped bodies and legs, square or rounded arms, and cartoon-like facial expressions that lack a nose," Roblox says in its complaint.

(CN) — It's the classic story of life imitating the metaverse, and the metaverse suing life for copyright infringement.

A lawsuit filed by the popular online gaming platform Roblox against a Hong Kong-based toymaker WowWee over a line of dolls known as Avastars, will survive — or rather, half of it will — after a federal judge dismissed some of the claims but ruled the rest were adequately pleaded and deserving of a trial.

Roblox is, by some accounts, the most popular kids game in the United States, with 58.8 million daily active users around the world, as of last year — though calling it a game is somewhat misleading. More accurately, it is a "digital world where users create virtual games and experiences and connect with other users,” as Roblox describes it. There are countless games within that world, some of which have been designed by users who interact with one another through animated characters that look a lot like Lego figures. These avatars can be personalized by adding different hair styles, articles of clothing and facial expressions.

In August 2022, Roblox filed a lawsuit against WowWee, which had begun selling the My Avastars line of dolls which, according to the complaint, had been "intentionally copied directly from Roblox’s Classic Avatars."

Adding insult to injury, Roblox says, WowWee also included a special code with every $25-$35 doll which allowed its customers to link their real dolls with online avatars on the Roblox platform — thus the virtual world copying the real world copying the virtual world. WowWee called this funhouse mirror the “My Avastars: RP experience."

An advertisement for My Avastars doll, touting the "My Avastars: RP" game coming to Roblox (Roblox complaint)

As evidence, the complaint cited a TikTok post by WowWee vice president Sydney Wiseman, in which the executive wrote, “I was looking at all the customization of Roblox and I was like ‘wow that would be a great doll line.’"

According to Roblox's complaint, "The end result is a doll line that WowWee admits consists of copies of Roblox’s avatars. Just like Roblox’s avatars, 'My Avastars' are humanoid figures with cylindrical heads, C-shaped hands, block-shaped bodies and legs, square or rounded arms, and cartoon-like facial expressions that lack a nose."

Roblox's panoply of claims included copyright infringement, false advertising, trademark infringement, breach of contract, false advertising and unfair competition.

WowWee, in its own court filing, offered a variety of defenses. Some of the virtual characters in question, it argued, like “Brookhaven Customer Avatar” and “Stylz Salon Stylist Avatar," had been the creation of third-party users, not Roblox. And some of the characters hadn't been copyrighted before the initial complaint was filed. "Avatar Bases," the templates for users to work from, hadn't been registered at all.

In her decision, U.S. District Judge Susan Illston dismissed the claims based on the late-registered avatars, as well as those based on Avatar Bases because "Roblox has not sufficiently alleged that these works are copyrighted," she wrote in her order. Other claims, she wrote, are strong enough to survive, like those based on "the Cindy, Lindsey, Kenneth, and Dennis Avatars," which are copyrighted by Roblox.

Illston also ruled that some of the claims were subject to arbitration, based on Roblox's own terms of service agreement, and stayed those claims pending the outcome of the arbitration.

The split ruling had both sides claiming victory. In a statement, a spokesperson for Roblox said, "We appreciate the court’s recognition of the strength of the claims we brought against WowWee for infringing Roblox’s iconic avatars, and we look forward to bringing to an end WowWee’s infringement of our intellectual property."

WowWee's attorneys said they are "pleased" that the court "significantly trimmed back the claims on the pleadings, including certain core copyright claims, after a thoughtful discussion. We look forward to demonstrating that the remaining claims are deficient in due course.”

Follow @hillelaron
Categories / Consumers, Entertainment

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