NCsoft happy with Marvel settlement

LAS VEGAS--Last month, Marvel Entertainment and NCsoft announced the settlement of the comic book giant's lawsuit against the publisher of such online games as "City of Heroes" and "City of Villains" over whether player-created avatars can legally resemble Marvel trademark characters like the Hulk or Captain America.

At issue was the fact that the character creation engine of "City of Heroes allowed players to make their avatars look like whatever they wanted, and that could include Spider Man, Wolverine or just about anything else they could design themselves.

Marvel objected, alleging that the engine infringed on its intellectual property, and it sued in November 2004.

At the time, the online games community was aghast, saying essentially that a ruling in Marvel's favor would be tantamount to telling children they couldn't make a Spider Man suit for Halloween. And they said it would put the kibosh on virtually all player-created content in online games since just about any such content could conceivably be made to infringe on someone's IP.

Well, when the companies settled last month, the terms weren't disclosed.

NCsoft issued a press release at the time saying, "The parties' settlement allows them all to continue to develop and sell exciting and innovative products but does not reduce the players' ability to express their creativity in making and playing original and exciting characters."

Yet once again, the online games community and legal experts familiar with the case worried that the lack of disclosure about the terms would mean an ongoing fear of further lawsuits, either by Marvel or other rights holders against NCsoft or other online games publishers since no one knew what the real environment was going forward.

But at the Consumer Electronics Show here on Friday, NCsoft executive producer and online games pioneer Richard Garriott told CNET News.com that his company, other publishers and players would all be happy with the settlement. Further, he reiterated that the terms meant that everyone involved would be free to do what they'd been doing before the suit.

Of course, he wouldn't divulge any of the settlement terms, but from his demeanor, which bordered on a little swagger, it felt very much like NCsoft had been the winner and that Marvel had had to tuck its tail between its legs.

And for anyone interested in users' unfettered ability to create open-ended content, that is a very good thing.

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