How Will the Edgar Davids League of Legends Lawsuit Impact MMO Games?

By Jeff Francis
How will Edgar Davids League of Legends lawsuit impact mmo games?

The world of sports and mmorpg games rarely mix except in the case of sports games that make a licensing agreement with a specific sports league. However, Riot Games, the maker of League of Legends, found itself in a courtroom facing off against a retired soccer player, Edgar Davids. The reason for this showdown was that a League of Legends lawsuit was filed by Davids over the sale of the Striker Lucian skin that Davids claimed was based upon his likeness. At the end of the trial, the court ruled in the favor of Davids and told Riot Games that they had to pay a fee based upon the sales that the Striker Lucian skin had made in Holland. How will the Edgar Davids League of Legends lawsuit impact mmo games?

soccer star Edgar Davids

The genesis of the League of Legends lawsuit began back in 2014 when the Striker Lucian skin was first released. An employee of Riot Games actually tweeted that the skin had been inspired by Edgar Davids, who was a popular and highly recognizable soccer star. One glance at the similarities between Davids and the Striker Lucian skin is enough to make the most casual observer agree that such was the case. The trademark goggles and dreadlocks that Edgar Davids sported found their way into the Striker Lucian skin. Davids even acknowledged this by tweeting out his thanks over the skin. But he then had a change of heart, and his lawyers instructed Riot Games to stop using the skin back in December 2015. They did not, and Edgar Davids then sued.

In the League of Legends lawsuit brought by Edgar Davids, the court ruled, "The court has come to the conclusion that the skin should be considered as a portrait. Striker Lucian is so similar to the former player - dark skin, sporting look, aggressive style, black dreadlocks and sporting goggles - that the skin and images of Striker Lucian remind people of the player. That assessment has taken context and the purpose of use of the portrait into account. The player's marketable popularity is enough reason for the former player to fight the use of his portrait. The player's interests outweigh the commercial interests of the game to offer the Striker Lucian skin and no reasonable compensation has been offered to the player. Riot Games therefore owe the player a compensation fee."

So, how will this League of Legends lawsuit impact mmo games? To start off with, it won't impact Riot Games that much. The court verdict only specifies damages based upon the sale of Striker Lucian skins in one single country: Holland. I'm pretty sure that Riot Games didn't sell millions of dollars worth of that skin in that country. They probably spent more money on their lawyers than they actually owe Edgar Davids. However, that tune could change if the player introduces the lawsuit in other countries (I'm unsure of the steps he'll need to do so). I know quite a few gamers are complaining that Edgar Davids was initially flattered by the Striker Lucian skin being inspired by him, only to turn around and sue League of Legends (which you can play for free here) later on. However, Davids has a very legitimate reason for his lawsuit. If he did not vigorously defend his intellectual property (his likeness), then other companies could have done similar things like Riot Games did, and his ability to seek legal damages would have been lessened dramatically. I'm sure his lawyers told him that you can't put the genie back in the bottle if that happens, so he had no other option to ask Riot Games to pull the skin. They chose not to, which then forced him to file the League of Legends lawsuit.

League of Legends Lucian Striker

The financial impact for the lawsuit is negligible right now, but it will have an impact upon mmo games in the future. Developers will be very wary of using the likeness of professional athletes, celebrities, and trademarked or copyrighted works outright. They may use a feature or two to include in a game as part of a skin, map, or character, but they will ensure that not enough of the source "inspiration" makes it into the game to make them financially liable if they get sued for using a likeness or asset without permission. I think the biggest impact will be upon those fly-by-night online games and mobile games that use images based upon famous celebrities all the time without permission. No matter what, this League of Legends lawsuit brought by Edgar Davids has set a precedent.

That being said, don't expect any major court verdicts in the future. The entire affair over the Striker Lucian skin was a pretty unique event, and Edgar Davids was fortunate enough to live in a country where he could sue Riot Games for using his likeness without permission. Most celebrities would find it too expensive to sue a game that infringed upon their intellectual property, and the companies behind many games are based in countries that have very lax copyright and piracy laws. The main impact is that larger game companies will be smart in making sure that they don't outright use a celebrity's mug or trademark mannerisms. They'll make enough changes to protect themselves legally. In the end, the overall impact by the League of Legends lawsuit will be very minor.

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