Assassins Creed Lawsuit – Can You Own An Idea?

Can you own the rights to a fictional concept?

Assassins Creed 3 is under threat of having its release date pushed back because it is accused of using the ideas from a 2003 novel titled Link by John L. Beiswenger.  The brief summary of Beiswenger v. Ubisoft can be found here.

Upon reviewing the plaintiff’s personal/professional website it is evident that he wishes to consider himself an inventor and writer.  He has many patents on existing objects today.  However, this case is going to hinge on the argument of whether or not you can own the rights to a theoretical idea that you haven’t created in the sense of material existence.  One way in which this might go in the direction of the plaintiff is if they take the route of comparing his alleged concept to that of a mathematical equation.

The question that should be asked by Ubisoft is whether or not references between stories require a reference, credit or even permission.  That is assuming that the idea can be proven to be the same as the alleged theoretical machine.  In this case it will depend largely on whether or not there were exact ‘parts’ of the machine being referenced or certain abilities such as time travel through the consciousness of ancestors.  Even in the case of the latter being the crux of the argument, who’s to say that it hasn’t been referenced before the aforementioned novel Link?

Here is a quick example –

If I write a story about time traveling back to 1960 by using a Flux Capacitor in my Corolla I would probably be in violation because it is so similar to the story in Back to the Future.

However, if I write a story about time traveling with a device called the Conundrum Annihilator that allows me to go to 1960 in my Corolla it is more of a concept than some sort of intellectual theft.

There is a difference between referencing time travel and using the ‘flux capacitor’ in order to travel through time.

Or, if you prefer an example of how the interaction might happen between the theorist and the creator you might want to watch the movie Twister and look at the interaction between Bill Paxton’s character Bill and Cary Elwes character Jonas when Bill sees his idea brought to life by his rival.

Bill: You son-of-a-bitch! What, did you think I wasn’t going to find out?
Jonas: Somebody get this loser off of me? [Bill’s team comes to pull Bill off of Jonas] What the hell is the matter with you?
Bill: [Tries to push at Jonas again] You stole my design, you son of a bitch!
Jonas: What the hell are you talking about?
Bill: DORTHY. You took her, you damn THIEF!
Jonas: [Realizes what Bill is talking about and smiles] Oh, I get it. You’re trying to take credit for my designs, ain’t you?
Bill: Liar. She’s our idea and you know it!
Jonas: Unrealized idea. Unrealized.
Bill: That thing ain’t worth shit! [Tries to attack Jonas again, Jo helps stop it]
Jo: Hey! Hey, guys! Get a grip on yourselves. We both know they’ll never get that thing up in the air.
Jonas: Now let me enlighten you people. This baby has satellite comlink. We’ve got an onboard pulse stopper, and we’ve got NEXRAD real-time. Today, we’re going to make history. So stick around, ’cause the days of sniffing the dirt are over.

Other good reading on this topic:

The Escapist

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