Thursday, June 10, 2010

NERD FIGHT! The Highlights Of Palladium Vs Trion

In some ways, when you step back and look at the Palladium Books and Trion Worlds battle over the right to name a game "Rift," it's a little silly. It's a game, after all. Does it really matter? In a world where children are starving and wars are raging and BP is trying to give Mother Earth a Jheri Curl, is this really something that we want to fight about, hold grudges over, and for which will be spent untold amounts of money? Really?

But, hey, that's the world in which we live. For better or worse, however we got here and whatever has come before, this is now a knock-down, drag out fight that could potentially rule the fortunes of dozens or hundreds of people. In the end, there's a chance that someone is going to wish they hadn't tied on their gloves.

We've had several developments in this story, many of which are just amazing to behold. Thanks to the detective work of, we have our hands on a number of court documents detailing Palladium's beef with Trion, Trion's response to Palladium, and then Palladium's rebuttal to Trion's response to Palladium. Confused yet? All told, there are in excess of 50 pages of legalese through which to swim, but luckily, I've already read them all so you just have to enjoy the highlights as I detail them below. You'll laugh. You'll cringe. You'll roll your eyes. It's like Thanksgiving with the in-laws, and it's right here on Jason Richards cannot be trusted. Read on for the greatness.

Just one more time, let me reiterate a couple of things. First, while I am a longtime contracted author for Palladium, and have written two sourcebooks and contributed in many other ways to the Rifts RPG, in no way are they my employer. I do have a Non-Disclosure Agreement with Palladium, but I have no inside knowledge whatsoever on these issues; I just read the Internet like anyone else. And, finally, I'm no lawyer, so I'm tackling this from the worst possible angle: a layman with a blog. This should be fun.

The award for biggest waste of time goes to: Trion!

Maybe the single largest issue raised in any of these many, many documents is the argument over whether or not Michigan is the appropriate venue for this legal standoff. Mostly, I find this booooorrrring.

The issue seems to stand as this: Trion believes that the whole case should be thrown out because the Michigan court does not have any right to judge them, a California company. Palladium argues that Trion is, by virtue of their national and global marketing and customer base, which naturally includes Michigan, coming into Palladium's house. I suppose that Palladium could have filed in California, but then I wonder if Trion wouldn't have moved to dismiss based on the fact that Palladium Books is not a California company. The whole thing seems like an attempt to throw out as many lines as possible and make Palladium chase them all. Probably not a bad strategy.

Trion would have won this category several deep, by the way. I'm sure it's all just part of the game, but there are some terribly smalls nits that are being picked, some of them so far off base and irrelevant that it's hard to imagine why they were included to begin with. But, again, I'm sure that's all just part of the game.

The award for most embarrassing argument goes to: Palladium!

Why is the Internet always the bane of Palladium's existence? It has bitten them so many times, I've lost count. In this case, Palladium turns to the almighty Interweb in two regards.

First, Palladium uses several posts from its message boards by Palladium fans to show that the use of the word "Rift" as the game title can cause confusion, making people think that this game has something to do with Palladium Books and its flagship RPG, Rifts. But, in a number of these cases, the postings actually did the opposite, showing that there was little to no confusion, a fact that I'm sure Trion's lawyers delighted in including with their rebuttal.

For example, Palladium used this as an example of a fan that was confused by the use of the word "Rift" in the title of Trion's MMO:
"Rifts was the first thing I thought of too..."
Sounds like there is some confusion, right? Well, what the posting actually said was:
"Rifts was the first thing I thought of too. But so what? It's not the first time a name reminds us of another rpg product. And that's all it was - one name reminiscent of another."
Ouch! That stings. Here's another one. Palladium submitted:
"Yeah, I looked at this because I thought to myself, 'Sweet Jebus, it's about time Rifts made an MMO.'"
But, what what was actually posted was:
"Yeah, I looked at this because I thought to myself, 'Sweet Jebus, it's about time Rifts made an MMO.' And then I saw it, and I was like, damn another fantasy MMO clone. How dull."
Really, Palladium's legal team? Really? Taking part of a quote out of context using an ellipsis is the Internet equivalent to crossing your fingers behind your back when fibbing to teacher about who put the tack in Johnny's chair. It's the lowest, trollish behavior in which one can engage using the written word. In fact, I'm going to have to refer you to your own forum rules and ask that you be banned from participation for flame baiting or personal attack or failing to "play nice." You should have seen this one coming.

Just briefly, the second issue here is that Palladium holds up the use of the Internet as perhaps their top marketing tool, to which Trion responds, saying that hosted portions about the company and the Rifts RPG which had not been updated in nine or five years, respectively. What Palladium said was true, of course, in that they do use the web as their top marketing tool, but Trion's response had to have hit a nerve.

The award for funniest line goes to: Trion!

This is just a quick one that I'll let speak for itself. Trion states that while both a traditional RPG and a MMORPG might both be vaguely related, the two actually do not resemble one another. To illustrate, their statement says:
The contrast is striking, and demonstrates that even if both products could broadly be described as "role-playing games" that involve the ubiquitous storytelling element of inter-dimensional "rifts," they are only as "related" as ping-pong and basketball, both of which are "games" that involve the use of "balls,"
Nice burn, Trion. You also win the "quotation marks" award as well as the "end a sentence in a comma" award; they really did write that just as I reproduced it, above.

More to come tomorrow

Wow, this is going long, so I'll continue with Part 2, tomorrow. Be sure to look ahead, as I'll be awarding in the following categories:

  • Most hilarious reversal
  • Most damning point
  • Biggest card not yet played

Tell a friend, and I'll be back with more, tomorrow.


Jason Marker said...

Holy shit. That picture. Honestly, that's all I've got. I did enjoy you using the forum rules to give them a banning.

Steve Dubya said...

While the results of the hearing (or whatever what went down yesterday might be termed) are still not quite available, I suspect that things didn't go well for Palladium - my rationale for this being that there hasn't been any sort of post by Kevin indicating something to the effect that "while things looked bad last week, they're looking much better now."

Obviously that isn't necessarily the case, but if I had to put money on this as of RIGHT NOW I'm guessing that Trion came out on top (at least, for the moment, and I wouldn't even want to guess based off which tactic they might have used).

A.L. said...

Gotta agree. Also, thanks for the update/recap on it. Haven't had time to go crawling through the legalese, so having the cliff notes is fun.

Bevin Flannery said...

Not to get overly lawyerly, but venue and personal jurisdiction are not the same thing -- Trion argues the latter, not the former. They moved to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction. This is the sort of argument that you make up front, and often, so that there can't be an argument later on that you've waived it. The reference to a "special appearance" (rather than a default general appearance) on the title page refers to this desire to preserve the argument. Waive the argument now, and it's gone forever -- and it's an issue that a federal court generally is REQUIRED to resolve first before taking any action on the merits of a claim.

Preserving the issue is strategically important strategic for at least two reasons:

First, if personal jurisdiction is lacking, then any order by the trial court against Trion is a nullity; Trion can appeal any preliminary injunction to the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals to set aside that order -- and one of the arguments it can make is that the appellate court should vacate the preliminary injunction because jurisdiction was lacking.

Second, if the case proceeds into protracted litigation beyond the preliminary injunction stage, Trion may have justifications for wanting to litigate in California (more accessible to its attorneys, less convenient for Palladium, perhaps more favorable case law if there is any difference between 6th vs. 9th Circuit standards, maybe they just don't the judge who was assigned in Michigan, etc.).

Your comment about Trion arguing that Palladium can't sue in California because it isn't a California company probably is in jest, but I'm feeling over pendantic[1] today and will pontificate on it anyway: Palladium doesn't need to be a California corporation to sue Trion in California[2]; a plaintiff consents to jurisdiction when it files suit in the given forum. Further, venue would have been appropriate in Trion's local federal court.

[1] Typographical errors are deliberate copyright traps for the unwary.

[2] California does have a statute that under some circumstances requires a corporation to be registered to do business in the state in order to bring suit; such circumstances wouldn't apply to this case.

Jason Richards said...

Bevin is now the official legal correspondent of Jason Richards cannot be trusted. Thanks for the info!

Jack Philpott said...

The whole thing sucks for Palladium here: they're a tiny, near-bankrupt company struggling to survive and NEED something big, be it the Rifts Movie or a major MMORPG, if they are going to make it. If Trianon creates an MMORPG with the name "Rift", then Palladium and their partner(s) potentialy look like copycats--or worse, open themselves up for copywrite infringement--if/when they produce a "Rifts" MMORPG game. And if Palladium doesn't fight it they could also open up other areas of their copywrite for potential poaching (movies, etc.).

I don't envy PB...damned if they do or don't. 'Cause I doubt they have the cash to keep this in court for long. "Piddling shit" like venue and such are classic delay tactics: keep the little guy tied up in legal red tape until he goes broke.

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