Casual game developers Blingville LLC, who have a game of the same name in development, have fired back at three Cease and Desist letters sent by Zynga over the former’s use of the term “ville” in their game name, suing the company and asking for a declaratory judgement against them.
Zynga had sent Cease and Desist letters on November 2nd and December 6th of 2010 as well as January 4th of 2011, requesting that the name Blingville be desisted due to the fact that the use of a word ending in “ville” in relation to video games violates their trademarks on their existing properties which include CityVille and FarmVille. In response, Blingville claims that just by sending C&Ds that Zynga is creating controversy and is therefore adversely affecting the game, and is asking a court in their home state of West Virginia to issue a judgement that states that they are within rights to fair use of any trademark. They are also requesting that Zynga pay their legal fees.
Blingville’s website is nothing more than a logo and a sign-up link to their Facebook page, which asks for standard Facebook profile information and requests to be allowed to send direct emails. The blingville.com domain has been registered since 2004, but a WHOIS privacy service prevents us from knowing the identity of the owner.
A declaratory judgement, in this case, is filed by the recipient of a Cease and Desist letter to preempt a potential lawsuit, and force any action in a courtroom to happen in the jurisdiction of the party filing the request for the judgement. Zynga is based in Delaware and Zynga Game Network – both companies are mentioned on the suit – is based in California. They would have to go to West Virginia to fight this, at their own cost, if a judge allowed this to continue. To put a declaratory judgement in the simplest terms, think of Zynga as a big brother who’s trying to push around a younger brother, and Blingville as that younger brother, going to his mother – the West Virginian court – and demanding they take care of it.
I have reached out for comment, and will update this article if I receive any comment from either side.
This is a lot like the recent incident where Lima Sky had initially requested Apple take down a spate of copycat games that all had the word “Doodle” in them, coincidently after their own game Doodle Jump achieved a large measure of fame on the service. The company since went back on their demands, but founder Igor Pusenjak stated that he was obligated to fight on behalf of his company and his property. Though the spate of casual games blatantly copying more successful franchises is getting ridiculous – in the cases of Blingville, the “Doodle” games and Capcom’s MaXplosion in reference to Twisted Pixel’s ‘Splosion Man, it’s pretty obvious what’s going on, and it’s also obvious that the people developing these games are just about stealing from other people – in the “Doodle” case, they likely wouldn’t have a leg to stand on. The word Doodle is too common to just copyright everything having to do with it in regards to video games, and I have a feeling that Zynga is going to run into the same issue, no matter how crappy Blingville looks.
With that said, it’s bitterly ironic that the company who built themselves up by stealing the work of others, and then beating anyone who complained out of the business with their venture capital, is all of a sudden a trademark defender. Mark Pincus is a career venture capitalist and it shows in the brutal, dirty way he’s done business in his career as an executive, even at places before Zynga. It would be hilarious that a company with Zynga’s history is spending so much effort defending trademarks they did everything but outright steal if it wasn’t actually happening.