So I made two related tweets over the course of the weekend.
GW’s Space Marine attack is another example of those with money relying on folks not being able to afford to fight scurrilous legal threats.— Adam Lipkin (@Tsalmoth) February 8, 2014
King, using lawsuits and the awareness that their victims can’t afford legal fees, are pretty much just bullies: http://t.co/j899udinFj— Adam Lipkin (@Tsalmoth) February 7, 2014
The first refers to Games Workshop's attempt to stop haikujaguar from publishing her Spots the Space Marine works. The second refers to King.com, the makers of Candy Crush Saga, attempting to stop any game from using the word Saga.
Both of these situations have a few things in common: They involve a big company clearly acting in bad faith, with no valid legal claim, knowingly going after a small company or person. In both cases, the company is using legal maneuvers that will or did cost money to oppose, money that the victims in both cases could ill afford to spend*.
There's only one real way to describe the people behind this (if you read the Tweets, you've been spoiled here): Bullies. They're relying on an already-existing power imbalance to assert dominance. And unlike school bullies, they're setting themselves up to be legally in the right, since anyone can file a suit**. Yes, there's legal recourse that can be taken, but that very action is painful; these are basically (to my decidedly IANAL eyes) SLAPP suit variants.
I'm a big fan of protection laws. We have them for good reasons. But these people are abusing them to try to destroy careers, and that makes them abusive bullies, and scum***. They may be legally in the right (or, to be slightly more nuanced, not doing something illegal), but they're morally and ethically in the wrong.
*Although public shaming has worked well in both cases so far; that said, it's not something that can always be counted upon.
**I know, it's not always a lawsuit; but the process of filing a trademark violation claim with Amazon still involves lawyers and favors the rich.
***Yes, some folks will rightly point out that King's entire business model is built on variations in recognizable game themes, notably Bejeweled, Peggle, Bust-a-Move, Diamond Dash, etc. But I'm okay with that. Frankly, games build on themes from previous games (most of the games I just named do exactly that themselves, and I know a zillion people who blithely played, say, Snood with no moral qualms), and that's a good thing. I actually think King has built in interesting ways on those games, and while the business ethics of their games are questionable, the mechanics they've added definitely make them legitimately new games, and often even fun ones to a varying degree.