A game designer received the threat of a lawsuit for his digital replica of a subway station over of security concerns for the station and potential copyright infringement in the subway maps.
The game, Counter Strike: Global Offensive, is created by Valve Corporation and uses open source software that allows its users to create their own level, or “scene”, for the game. Diego Liatis and Frederic Denis, independent game designers from Montreal, Canada, spent nine months creating a new scene for the game. The level design was for a major Montreal game competition taking place March 1st, 2nd, and 3rd of this year. Liatis and Denis’s scene was a replica of the Berri-UQAM subway station in Montreal, recreated with the help of the Montreal transit authority. However, close to the completion of his level for the game, Liatis received a cease-and-desist letter from the Montreal transit authority telling him not to publish the scene and that they would pursue legal action if it went public.
The cease and desist letter threatens a lawsuit on two grounds. First, if the design gave away private footage of areas that unable to be seen by a normal commuter using the train, then that footage could possibly be used to cause harm to the station. Second, if the scene violated any intellectual property rights (e.g., copyrights and trademarks) of any company that may be advertising on the trains or in the station itself, then the letter states claims likely to succeed. However, the letter did not come from the company who owned the products in the advertisements. The letter came from the Montreal transit authority so the second grounds of the lawsuit would not apply . There is the possibility of a third issue involving train maps. The trains and train stations in Montreal have maps that are trademarked by the Montreal transit authorities.
All of these claims are weak. A major flaw in the claim that the depiction poses security risks is that the in-game scene does not depict anything a normal commuter is unable to see upon entering the station and thus the scene does not reveal any secrets. Because terrorist threats and activity are a current and vivid issue, a game depicting terrorist and weapons fighting in a known subway station may cause a panic. The panic may stem from commuters feeling that art may one day imitate life and that something terrible could happen in the train station similar to what the game depicts. Regardless, this is a video game and numerous companies depict real world areas in their games. Thus, this scene does not raise unique security risks or topics warranting the ban of a game’s scene.
The intellectual property issues discussed earlier are the stronger claims by the Montreal transit authority. Again, the developers may avoid them if they replace all signs and pictures with fictional maps and signs. Liatis alleges that during the nine months it took to create the level, he was in contact with the Montreal transit authority on the designs. This may be an implied license issue in favor of Liatis. An implied license refers to an unwritten license that permits a party (the licensee) to do something that would normally require the express permission of another party (the licensor). If the Montreal transit authority did help Liatis with his design, were aware of what he was doing, and gave him the impression they were comfortable with the use of the subway for nine months, Liatis may have an implied license. Liatis has not confirmed whether he plans to release his level to public yet.