It’s old hat by now to point out that on matters of copyright far too many people are unaware of the nuances of the law as to what constitutes infringement and what doesn’t. While this is generally true, it’s all the more so when it comes to how copyright covers specific characters or settings. For instance, George Lucas may have a copyright claim on the specific character of Darth Vader, but he most certainly does not have any claim to the more generic black-armored space-magician with a laser sword and a bad attitude. Copyright covers expression, in other words, not mere ideas.
Which brings us to ex-WWE wrestler Booker T and his lawsuit against Activision over a G.I. Bro character he created and a character in Black Ops 4.
Booker T. Huffman has filed a lawsuit against video game publisher Activision for allegedly stealing his “G.I Bro” character in the Call Of Duty: Black Ops 4 video game.
Huffman filed a lawsuit today against Activision Publishing, Inc, Activision Blizzard, Inc., and Major League Gaming Corp.
The lawsuit alleges that Booker T’s character G.I Bro was copied by the Black Ops character David “Prophet” Wilkes. Booker T used the G.I Bro character in the 90s as a professional wrestler, and also created a comic book based on the character in 2015.
You can read the entire filing below, but I will tell you right up front that this isn’t a strong case. Booker T is asserting copyright infringement over a character that does not share a name with his, does not share a backstory with his, and does not exist in the same setting as his. Instead, it appears the only thing the two characters do share is that both are African American gunslingers in combat gear with long hair. Seriously, that’s about it. The filing itself uses these side by side images to demonstrate the “blatant copying” that has occurred.
If you think there is any kind of unique identifier in Activision’s image on the right that somehow makes it a clear copy of Booker T’s character, you’re a crazy person. Again, to put it bluntly, it’s just an African American guy with long hair in combat gear. Complicating Booker T’s suit further, this is an established character in the Black Ops ethos, with this supposedly infringing depiction being simply some imagery around when Prophet was younger. The character is Prophet, full stop. It’s not G.I. Bro at all and nobody is going to think otherwise, except apparently for Booker T and whatever lawyers he convinced to file this lawsuit.
And none of that even touches Booker T’s own character’s name, a clear homage and reference to G.I. Joe. One wonders if Hasbro wants to get involved at this point, given the stink that’s being made over intellectual property rights.