The two biggest games in the battle royale genre are set to have their own fight in the courtroom. PUBG Corporation, part of Bluehole, has accused Epic Games, which is behind rival title Fortnite, of infringing its copyright. But the complaint, which focuses on Fortnite’s potential copying of PUBG’s items and user interface, is unlikely to succeed according to copyright experts.
“The basic notion is that copyright does not protect ideas,” says Kim Barker, a lecturer at the University of Stirling who specialises in intellectual property law. “Anybody can have the same idea, and two games can express it in exactly the same way which is on the surface, exactly what has happened with the two games in question. It’s difficult to imagine that there is actually a case to answer.” In summary, she describes the case as “frivolous”.
And to understand how that works, you need to look at the music industry. In 2013, a copyright claim was brought by Marvin Gaye’s family and record label against Robin Thicke. It argued that Thicke’s song Blurred Lines bore an uncanny resemblance to Marvin Gaye’s Got to Give it Up. While Thicke’s defence argued that “no one owns a genre or groove”, the jury found in favour of Gaye’s family based on other similarities. Such a claim is very hard for PUBG to make against Fortnite.
The case has, understandably, attracted a lot of interest. In March 2018, PUBG and Fortnite collectively had over 40 million players across all platforms. They are both very much newcomers too. PUBG only released in full last December, with Fortnite adding its Battle Royale mode in September 2017.
Filing the case in South Korea may mean it is treated slightly differently to here in the UK or even the US, but not significantly. “I wouldn’t imagine that the basic copyright elements are vastly different,” says Barker. “The only slight factor which could make a difference is it is Korea, and they tend to be a little more active when it comes to dealing with issues like infringement and lawsuits in games.”
Even with this caveat, she isn’t convinced about PUBG’s chances. “I don’t really see it going anywhere as a lawsuit. It might, but I’d be surprised. I’d imagine they’ll settle [out of court], if anything.”