The werewolves are like Spider-Man. There’s no infrin… um… oops

I don’t actually know Gothic literature well enough to say whether the World of Darkness’ feud between vamps and werewolves is original. Nor have any of us seen the list that WW claims it has, the list of “60 points of unique similarity” between WoD material and the upcoming Kate Leatherpants film Underworld. In any case, the timing of this lawsuit’s announcement is a bit odd. Who is this supposed to be publicity for, anyway?

In other news, Orpheus, World of Darkness hardcover game number umpty-ump, actually looks kind of interesting: original, not overly tied to the rest of the world, still saddled with the misnamed Storyteller system but otherwise kinda Delta Green-ish and tasty-looking. I have every confidence that the next five books in the limited run of material to which Orpheus belongs will both A) be what brings about the announced end of the WoD, and B) hopelessly muddle what currently looks like a fun game. That doesn’t change that this book looks good, though.

36 comments

  1. Whether there is an actual infringement or not (under the intellectual property law), Sony is most likely to settle out-of-court, meaning White Wolf will get richer. Ideally, I would like to see Sony have a backbone and challenge the claim in court, win or lose. I also would like to see this movie.

  2. Why is that? So that the infringement will become more public, and WW will get some publicity out of it? Or do you hope to keep the money away from WW? I don’t know the details of the story allegedly being pilfered, nor have I seen the movie (obviously), but if things are as WW says, they’re owed some serious cash.

  3. Well, I’ve yet to see hard evidence that the movie is infringing on White Wolf’s copyright, under the law. In this court case, it is plaintiff White Wolf that must prove that.

    But I don’t think they will go to court. Sony would rather pay them to shut up in an out-of-court settlement, and allow the film to be distributed. I mean if I were a Sony executive and I truly believe that my UNDERWORLD film is in no way based on White Wolf’s works, does not have exact element lifted from their creative property, I still won’t go to court as it is a waste of time. I put away my principle and just pay them a settlement. Wouldn’t you, if you were accused?

  4. Actually, I’m almost positive Underworld isn’t infringing on White Wolf’s copyrights, and I’d really like to see Sony counter-sue WW. I wouldn’t be bothered at all if WW lost a lot of money. Their money-grubbing attitude gets really old really fast.
    I’ve personally read enough vampire literature to know for a fact that the ideas in Underworld could have come from anywhere. Most of White Wolf’s material isn’t original anyway. They’re using as examples on some of the similarities between Underworld and their games the fact that vampires in the movie have reflections, and can vanish from sight at will. I could remind them that vampires in Anne Rice novels had a reflection, and I’ve read more than one vampire novel that includes vampiric abilities such as the ability to mask their presense.
    To be honest I’m actually hoping White Wolf loses a lot of money over this. It might help them pull their heads out of their asses and realize that they didn’t invent most of what they’re trying to sell.

  5. I’ve read the complaint. It is available at http://homepages.cquest.utoronto.ca/~cks/whitewolf.complaint.pdf

    Some of the items of similarity are generic, but there are some that are pretty specific. If you take the specific similarities as a base, it makes the potential “coincidental” similarities look much more suspicious.

    I’m no lawyer, but for my money, I think White Wolf and Nancy Collins have a case. I agree Sony will probably settle out of court, and quickly.

    Why? Someone already mentioned the timing. White Wolf is seeking a temporary (and later permanent) injunction against the release of Underworld. Sony can’t afford that, so they’ll settle, or try to. Then the ball (and power) is in White Wolf’s court.

  6. As soon as I saw the trailer for Underworld, I felt that it’d been strongly influenced by the White Wolf universe. I’m very glad that White Wolf is defending its intellectual property.

    Did you know that the producers of Underworld announced another movie not to long ago? It’s about agents for a top secret government agency who can lave their bodies and interact with the dead. Sounds suspiciously like a certain just-released White Wolf product, doesn’t it?

    Yeah, lots of White Wolf stuff is derived from classic motiffs. That doesn’t mean that it’s okay for other people to swipe their ideas.

  7. Just read the entire complaint. $1,650,000 in monetary damages for 11 infringements, plus destruction of the film and related works, plus three times any profits made from the film and related works, plus legal fees, etc… Ouch. Download the trailers and grab movie posters / standees while you can — I don’t think they’ll be around much longer…

  8. I just read the complaint, and after playing White Wolf games for almost 3 years, as well as reading and watching a fair share of vampire literature and movies, I can honestly say that there isn’t a single complaint on that list that’s justified. Nearly everything they say was stolen from White Wolf wasn’t created by White Wolf at all. I’ve seen similar powers, abilities and themes in Anne Rice novels, the Anita Blake series, and even the Blade movies and Vampire Hunter D. What most people don’t realize is that White Wolf didn’t create most of what it’s selling. They’re trying to copyright the entire concept of vampires and werewolves. They can’t force everyone else to either write about a Dracula-style vampire or shut up. But that’s what they’re trying to do. I am very disappointed in White Wolf, and as a player, I’m speaking from as non-biased an opinion as possible.

  9. A couple of realities: 1) there is no realistic chance that this lawsuit will stop Underworld from being released. Sony will hand WW the entire paltry worth of the United States tabletop gaming industry, in cash, before they’ll let that happen. 2) I could be wrong about this, and I am most definitely not a lawyer, but I don’t think it matters that White Wolf hardly created anything on that list of infringements. If they can show that the producers of Underworld borrowed _the same things in the same combination_, they have a case.

  10. Okay, after reading the court documents, I would have to say I think that White Wolf has legal grounds for suing Sony over this. Comparing the details, I would say there are too many similarities to be ‘coincidence’, and Sony is fair game.

    The topper?
    Vampire: Bloodlines (videogame) using Unreal system.

    Underworld: Bloodlines (videogame) using Unreal system.

    I mean, come on!

  11. That bloodline game stuff is crap.
    The Underworld:Bloodlines game is a free mod for half-life, that is being distributed, for free, by sony, as a publicity stunt.
    It in no way, interefers with the Vampire:Bloodlines game, that uses the half-life 2 engine.

  12. Okay some of these are complete crap. I mean, come on: In WoD, vampires are divided by age distinctions; in Underworld, vampires are divided by age distinctions. Big whoop, that’s become standard vamp concept long before WoD came along.

    In WoD, the more ancients are called Elders. In Underworld, the more ancients are called Elders. Again, come on – this is open domain stuff here.

    Several of the points I’ve seen done in Vampire Hunter D, Vampire Princess Miyu, Brian Lumley’s Necroscope/Wamphyri books, Anne Rice’s Vampires, the Blade movies, the Wolfen movies…really, WoD should be ashamed of themselves for the vast majority of the points.

    But I will concede certain points can be questionable:

    – the characters Lucita, in WoD, and Selene, in Underworld, do seem comparable enough to question;
    – the clan concepts do, at the glance offered by the complaint, seem to mimic the Ventrue, Assamites, and Toreador clans.
    – both Underworld and Love of Monsters have an elder vampire who is awakened, is furious at the love between the vampire and werewolf (however it should be noted that the aforementioned Selene in Underworld is the Juliet in the movie, while WoD’s Lucita has nothing to do with the Love of Monsters storyline)
    – the pregnancy between a werewolf and a vampire, and the hybrid in question
    – the father/child relationships betweens the Elder and the protagonist vampire in the book and the movie are very similar
    – both protagonists willingly became vampires, as opposed to having been forcefully embraced (a term also used in both book and movie)

    So…in a sense WoD does have a case that can be made. Since both the book and the movie draw heavy influence from the gothic vampire culture (both classic and punk), and from Romeo and Juliet, you have to ignore those points and look at the characters and specific plot points. As much as I hate to admit it, someone at Sony is going to lose their job over this. If this were a book published it would be blatant plagerism.

    Sux, because I’m really looking forward to Underworld.

  13. WW sues Sony? Of course.

    It’s like this:

    There isn’t a big budget flick that comes out that doesn’t draw some parasite to it claiming original authorship. There are attornies who specialize in this sort of thing. The cases are almost universally settled by the studios because it’s easier to just throw a little money at an asshole than to actually have to go to the trouble of dealing with him.

    WW knows this. They might win, valid case or not, simply because Sony doesn’t want to bother.

    WW also knows the value of publicity. There’s a reason they actually issued a press release about the suit. In basic terms, why is it essential that the press get hold of the story? Certainly not from a legal standpoint. Publicity. Say it again, with the iron tang of drool in your mouth: publicity. People who might never have heard of WW otherwise will because of this.

    More importantly, WW also wins by associating their games with the movie, whether they win the case or settle or not. People who see the movie and want to play a RPG that gives them the same feel are being told, in bright press release letters, “OUR GAMES ARE LIKE THIS!” If the movie is a hit, and people associate it, rightly or wrongly, with their games, they be mucho happies.

    The timing of the case indicates they wanted the news to hit just as the flick came out, thereby seeking synergy that’ll further the association.

    The case itself looks spurious. If I were on the defensive team, I’d make part of the case on the fact that nearly everything WW has done is in some way derivative (note I did say nearly). They’ve generally taken the raw matter of other people’s tropes and mixed them into a complex, interesting, fun brew. Any gamer with some sense of cultural history and the ability to do research could mine tons of derivation out of WW’s games, much of it starker and more blatant than that they’re accusing Sony of.

    WW doesn’t generally have a care about other people’s IP either. I can think of several instances where the company has used nearly identical pastiche art of other people’s previous work, whether it be the Corax in RAGE who looks pretty much 101% like the Crow, or, worse, the Arcadia or Rage card (can’t recall which, think it was Rage) that used Klempt’s “Kiss,” known from college dorm walls all over the land, attributed to some lazy ass artist who ripped off Klempt and got a check from WW. There’s a pic in the first edition of Mage of a guy in a hotel room, floating at the ceiling with his head breaking through it like it’s the surface of water and he’s submerged. This was nearly a stroke by stroke rip off of a painting (a cool painting) that was used both on a Scorpions album cover and on a Mongo mystery novel by George Chesbro. There’s been a lot of this stuff over the years, and I actually talked to Rich Thomas, the art boss at WW, about this very thing once. He’s not a stupid man, he knows art, and he knows when they use something like this. His whole attitude was that he really didn’t give a shit.

    And how about song quotes? Sure, you can quote a bit of text from a fictional work within the boundaries of fair use, but songs are diferent. If you use a bit of published song in your published work, you are supposed to seek clearance from and pay a fee to the entity owning the rights to that song. Take a look in the front of Cujo by Steve King some time: there’s a huge list of song clearances for the quotes used in that book, and not only are the rights holders acknowledged, they were paid.

    WW just puts quotes in and that’s that. They’re lucky they haven’t been kicked in the nuts by ASCAP.

    If they settle or win, WW gets a boost to their profits (just like those parasites suing in Hollywood) and maybe even gets a nod in the revised credits of the film, bringing us back to association. If they lose, they still managed to get some publicity and associate what may be a hit movie with their games.

    I don’t think they’re worried about losing. I think they figure Sony will settle, and they’re probably right.

  14. For those who say that WW has ripped of most of their stuff from other things, think about this: they have copyright over it, which means Sony owes them money.
    And which also means that they have a big chance of winning the trial. (at least I hope)

  15. I think the whole thing is just assanine!!! If Sony weren’t behind UNDERWORLD and the movie were a no name, low budget film, with unknown actors I don’t think there would be any lawsuits here!! The world has become so sue happy that everyone wants a piece of the pie even if they think that they have the slightest chance!! Who hasn’t seen or read books or movies about vampires and werewolves battling each other?? Vampires and werewolfs are not a White Wolf concept they have been around a very long time!! White Wolf is trying to sue for something that there is no validity!! Sure some of the ideas may be similar to White Wolf, but what ideas are ever truly original?? Take a look at great movies, books,music and art and tell me there are not some influences from past movies, books, music, and art. I hope “Underworld” does great and I am excited to see it!!! As far as the lawsuit goes I don’t think White Wolf deserves a speck of money from Sony!!

  16. If Underworld were a low budget film with unknown actors there wouldn’t be a suit as long as the movie doesn’t draw an audience. My first thought upon seeing the trailer was “Hey, they made a WOD-Movie” and, being reminded of the Vampire TV-Series, instantly lost all interest. Anyway, somebody in Sony’s law-departement didn’t do his job, and so WW has a case, regardless of originiality.
    BTW, I didn’t know Vampires battling Werewolves before WOD

  17. Benway: Yep, ‘fraid so. “Abbot & Costello meet the Wolfman.” Not sure if that’s the first documented case, but regardless, they sure as hell did it before White Wolf. 😉

  18. It gets better:
    Len Wiseman (the director of Underworld) is working on a new project, called “Black Chapter” about ghosts who work for the CIA. Doesn’t this remind anyone of Orpheus?

    I’m sure this is again all just a “coincidence”.
    I mean, there’s a real lot of movies of ghoss who work for the secret services, right? (Just forgive my sarcasm, I couldn’t help doing it 😉 ).

    WW should go for it and bankrupt that guy, IMHO

  19. You mean Orpheus, the project WW kept secret until pretty much just now? You figure Wiseman’s got an inside guy, a mole intent on stealing all WW’s original IP?

    Jeepers.

  20. There have been many vampire stories in many different media since Stoker first created them. There have also been many werewolf stories in many different media. And at least in one case, there have been a vampire-vs-werewolf story. I don’t see how WW, whose property is based on many different sources (including that of Anne Rice’s), could be any different from the previous sources to say “Hey, Underworld is plagiarizing us!” Again, cite me 10 specific examples and how it DIFFERED from previous sources.

  21. I’ve read the WW complaint, and talked with Charles Bailey (one of the PR directors at WWGS) about this, and the small items listed in the beginning of the complaint are there to help build an idea of what makes up the World of Darkness when dealing with Vampires and Werewolves. Since that is the item in question aside from the story taken.

    It’s not so much each individual item, but the series of items that make up the WoD.

  22. To the so-called “true White wolf” (who IMHO doesn’t seem to know enough about the WoD to deserve that name)

    I did make a mistake in the way I compared.
    I should have mentioned Wraith: the oblivion too.

    BUT

    If you had really known so much about the WoD, you would have known that the role of supernatural spies was already mentioned in Wraith: the Oblivion on several occasions (Wraiths even have a name for projectors: Skinboys).

    I fail to see how Wiseman makes two such movies in a row and this would still be coincidence?
    I half expect his next movie to be something about fallen angels who come back to earth after 1000s of years and find themselves trapped in the bodies of humans…

  23. You’d be surprised at the depth of my knowledge of the WoD, chuckles. I came up with pieces of it.

    Ghostly spies is a trope that’s been floating around for a long time. I know I’ve read stories using it here and there, but acknowledge I can’t at the moment remember which they were, nor am I inclined to go digging through my library to check just for the sake of an online BS session.

    And do you really think fallen angels on earth in the bodies of humans is original?!? This is so old hat the brim has fallen off.

  24. Sorry if it hurts your feelings,TTWW, but I can hardly believe it when you say that you came up with pieces of the WoD (anyone can say that, after all), especially since you seem to be quite anti-WW in this whole matter.
    Point is,the Orpheus idea was not so secret, since it was mentioned in Wraith multiple times (although not by the name of Orpheus), and I think that someone who invented part of the WoD would at least know that (and see the parts of Orpheus that were already in Wraith)
    I don’t care about the fact whether demons in human bodies are original or not. What I’m trying to say is that the guy’s first movie is a clear rip-off of Vampire/Werewolf and that is second is at first sight a rip-off of Wraith/Orpheus. So it wouldn’t be a surprise to me, if his next movie will be something along the lines of Demon: the Fallen.

    The point you seem to be missing is that WW has COPYRIGHT on these things (well, except for the demons maybe). Now you will probably start about the quotes in WW-books again, so I’ll answer that before you say it.
    White Wolf uses quotes,that’s true enough, but they always refer to the movies or songs from which they have taken the quote, coupled to the fact that quotes do not make the thing a rip-off (unless that you think that having a quote “I see dead people” makes Orpheus a sixth sense rip-off, for example. The big difference with Underworld is that Underworld does a) not refer to the copyrighted material and b)is a complete and utter rip-off of copyrighted material.

  25. Oh my. Asharu doubts me. Let me boil my head till it dies…The rest of your post is just speculative nonsense laced with an assumption that WW’s unproven case is valid as well as a flawed understanding of copyright matters, particularly in the case of songs. And as far as WW having the copyright on these basic fantasy tropes, that’s BS. Watch: “I know this ghost, see, and he is a spy for the World Wide Posturing Center.” See there, I’m using a similar idea to Orpheus in that very line. And you know what? I completely own the copyright to that line. If someone uses that line in their work without my permission, I can sue ’em. If someone writes the line “Alphonse is an agent of W.H.I.R.L, and he is a ghost,” I have absolutely no grounds for legal action, though the basic idea is the same. And WW can’t sue either of us, though the basic idea is similar to Orpheus.

  26. Ahh Orphus Original, has anyone seen Rent-a-Ghost.

    Millenium – The series
    Ghost Cop – really bad movie
    Randel and Hopkirk Deceased, (A cop who’s partner dies, and said partners ghoast helps living cop)

    When WWGS write an original setting Satan will be skating to work.

  27. Ahh Orphus Original, has anyone seen Rent-a-Ghost.

    Millenium – The series
    Ghost Cop – really bad movie
    Randel and Hopkirk Deceased, (A cop who’s partner dies, and said partners ghoast helps living cop)

    When WWGS write an original setting Satan will be skating to work.

  28. Well, (almost) everybody seems to be forgetting WW has copyright on the stuff (he judge agreed on that one, and I think he knows more about Copyrights thatn you do, “True White Wolf”. The likeness between Underworld and WoD is actually too big to be a coincidence.
    I can accept that the Black Chapter stuff is not a copy of Wraith/Orpheus, but considering the Underworld Debacle, I have difficulty believing he’s not copying from WoD.
    Of course, there’s a big difference between underworld and Wod: Quality.
    I think the average of critics at http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/Underworld-1125642/ give a good idea of how bad Wiseman made the transition from Game to movie.
    PS: I haven’t seen it yet and neither will I,for the same reason as I didn’t see Godzilla and The Patriot: Any movie that comes from Roland Emmerich and/or his entourage (Wiseman was part of Emmerich’s team on the some notorious disasters such as independence day) cannot possibly be good. So my judgment on Underworld’s qualities and failures may not entirely be accurate.

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