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  • Writer's pictureJacob Dutkiewicz

The Pokémon Copyright Kerfuffle

Updated: Feb 6

Newly released videogame Palworld stirs up controversy as claims of intellectual property infringement arise.

Palworld, an early access video game, managed to pull off an improbable success, a dream for any small developer. In the first three days since its early development release on the 19th of January it managed to sell 5 million copies via Steam, a digital game distribution platform.

The launching of Palworld, however, was stained by claims of copyright infringement on the behemoth-franchise Pokémon, owned by the Pokémon Company.

Palworld, similarly to Pokémon, is a game about capturing and training little creatures. The general objectives in both games are drastically different. Palworld is an open-world survival game while Pokémon is role-playing-game with considerably more story elements. However, the goofy creatures are the main draws of both games.

It is regarding the design of those creatures that the claims are being made, specifically the similarity between some of them.

The Pokémon Company, with majority stakeholder Nintendo, clearly takes those claims seriously. After publishing a statement earlier this week, they are investigating whether any copyright infringement has taken place and the legal avenues to follow if such infringement had occurred.

The Reality of Copyright Disputes

“Despite how striking the similarities in design might be, the reality of legal copyright disputes is entirely different,” says Herman Groen, an intellectual property lawyer.

“In general, when confronted with a potential copyright infringement the thing that is protected is the originality of a work, a cultural product.”

“Unless the designs or trademarked goods are outright copied from the original work, in which case the legal case is shut, copyright cases really come down to the opinion of the judge and how the arguments are presented in court,” he goes on to explain.

“You can copyright a design, a trademark, like a character. Everything that goes into creating a character, like the inspiration, is exempt from copyright. Otherwise, we just couldn’t make new things.”

What It Means in Practice

It seems that in the case of Palworld, any claims of copyright infringement would have to rely on Nintendo proving that their designs were directly copied from their franchise.

With Palworld seemingly taking meticulous care to distort their designs just enough to make them distinct from their Pokémon counterparts, Nintendo will have a tough time making a legal argument.

A potentially damning argument for Palworld, however, emerged not from the similarity of the goofy guys themselves, but the 3D models used as a foundation for the designs of the Palworld creatures.

According to some Internet sleuths, the 3D models used by Palworld directly overlap with those from the Pokémon games, down to their virtual dimensions.

Groen says that if use of copied assets could be proven a copyright infringement claim could be made.

Regardless, as of now no legal processes have been started.

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