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Mojang is apparently a magnet for frivolous copyright disputes. Last year the Minecraft developer was sued because they used the word "scrolls." Now, mini-golf company Putt-Putt has sent them a cease-and-desist letter.
"It has recently come to our attention that Mojang AB has been using, without authorization, our famous Putt-Putt trademarks in connection with your business," reads the letter signed by Putt-Putt CEO and President David Callahan. "A copy of images showing such unauthorized use of our famous trademarks is enclosed for your review."
Don Mattrick is CC'd on the letter. Mattrick was up until recently the head of the Microsoft's Xbox division. The Xbox 360 is one of Minecraft's many platforms.
The "image of unauthorized use" they mention is a screenshot of YouTube search results. It seems that several players made their own mini-golf courses within the open-world building game. They named the videos "Putt Putt Craft" and so forth because, well, Putt-Putt is synonymous with mini-golf for some people. It doesn't look like there's any use of actual Putt-Putt trademarks within the maps themselves, though, unless these virtual golf courses are modeled after real Putt-Putt courses or something.
Anyway, the point is that players made these golf courses rather than Mojang. However, PCGamesN points out that Putt-Putt might accuse Mojang of contributory liability. Contributory liability applies to companies who don't actually infringe upon trademarks but help others do so. An example would be a company like Aimster or Napster that creates a file sharing network where users trade copyrighted music and videos.
Still, I'm not sure a case against Mojang would hold water. When Universal City Studios sued Sony for making the VCR, thereby helping consumers create illegal copies of movies, Sony actually won. The court ruled that the Sony wasn't liable because the VCR was "widely used for legitimate, unobjectionable purposes." I'd say that sums up Minecraft as well, because most of the user-generated material isn't violating any copyright. I'm not sure there's ever been a specific case regarding contributory copyright and a building game like Minecraft, though, so I'm just speculating.
Putt-Putt's letter demands "prompt written assurance" that Mojang and "every person, agent and entity affiliated with" the company will stop infringing on their trademarks. If not, they'll refer the matter to their legal counsel. Their lawyers may then try to force Mojang to obey their trademarks and also pay "damages of a reasonably royalty" as compensation for the trademark infringements to date.
The deadline for Mojang to send their reply to Putt-Putt was today. Considering Mojang founder Markus Persson posted the letter on Twitter and said Putt-Putt was "being silly," I'm guessing the studio's not too worried about it.
"I think there is clearly a misunderstanding here as to what Minecraft actually is," Mojang's lawyer Alex Chapman told Eurogamer. "It's a game that, amongst other things, allows people to build things. Mojang doesn't control what users build and Mojang doesn't control the content of the videos users make. Suing Mojang for what people do using Minecraft is like suing Microsoft for what people do using Word."
You can read the full letter from Putt-Putt below.