Monthly Archives: March 2012

Mojang Settles with Zenimax over “Scrolls” Trademark

A bunch of trademark infringements in a basket.

Mojang, the creators of the indie sleeper hit videogame Minecraft, have settled with Zenimax, the publisher of the ultra-popular Skyrim, over the use of the word “scrolls” in Mojang’s upcoming release.  Zenimax and their subsidiary, Bethesda Softworks, claimed that the game’s name, which is simply “Scrolls”, was too close to their trademark property “The Elder Scrolls”, a long-running game series since 1994 whose latest installment grossed at least $600 million.  Trademark lawsuits are generally about whether a consumer would reasonably confuse a product, based on how similar the names are or whether the products themselves are similar, among other things.  While any idiot could tell at first glance that Scrolls is not the same as The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Zenimax’s main purpose in filing this lawsuit was most likely to demonstrate their willingness to protect their trademark.  If a defendant in a future, actual case of trademark infringement can prove that Zenimax has not attempted to enforce its trademark in the past, the company could possibly lose the trademark entirely — a situation that the occasional frivolous suit against low-key indie developers can help avoid.  The settlement in this case allows Mojang to keep the name “Scrolls”, but cedes the trademark, “Scrolls”, over to Zenimax.  Ostensibly, this is what both companies wanted in the first place.

The judge in this case noted that scrolls are very common in fantasy, which is the genre of both games.  An analogy to this case would be if Lord of the Rings author J.R.R. Tolkien sued every fantasy writer to later use “rings” in the title, despite the fact that magic rings are a common element in all fantasy stories.  Interesting, because a comparison of the Elder Scrolls universe and Tolkien lore will unearth nearly-derivative similarities on all levels that I won’t bore you with (though I could probably discuss that for a few hours).  So do they owe the Tolkien estate any money?  Should they stop making their games due to copyright?  In creative endeavors, creators build upon the works of creators past.  Though this case was about the title of a game, and not at all about gameplay or visual style or even content (if it were, they would have no case whatsoever), hopefully Zenimax will at least recognize their own creative debts.

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Sony BMG Settlement Indicates Need to Define Digital Royalties

A thing of the past – music companies want to sell digital music as if it were still analog.

I’ve written before that music companies need to adjust to changing times.  Today, Sony BMG settled a suit with a group of several musicians concerning digital distribution.  The gist of it is this: the royalties that go to artists are different if the transfer of a song is considered a sale or a license.  12-20% of a sale goes to the artist, while 50% of a license does.  A sale means that the copyright holder has given some ownership rights to the purchaser (e.g. with a CD or record, where the purchaser owns a copy of the album and can resell that copy at some point).  A license means that a purchaser has the right to listen to the song, but the copyright holder still retains all ownership rights.  Digital distribution services like iTunes and Amazon’s music download service have been treating digital versions of songs transferred via the internet as sales rather than licenses.  This lawsuit challenged that definition — the artists alleged that online distribution is more like a license than a sale, and therefore they are owed more money.

The settlement of this case for $8 million may influence more artists to sue.  If more artists sue, music distribution services may need to change their royalty calculation to a licensing system to protect themselves from greater losses in litigation.  Last year, Eminem famously won a similar suit, though it was mainly based on his contract and not the idea of licensing in general.  It was considered a precedent in copyright law, but since then the debate has been mostly quiet.  Hopefully, the music industry will begin to shift its digital rights management and become more open to change and paying artists a fair share of their work.  However, considering it’s an industry that sold over $6 billion worth of digital music last year, I can understand their reluctance to even a small shift in royalty fees.

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Celebrity Chef Pays $5.25 Million in Confiscated Tips to Workers

A pile of delicious spaghetti (representative of but not actually Batali’s, though)

Celebrity chef Mario Batali has settled with his disgruntled workers over allegations he skimmed 4-5% of servers’ tips at the end of every night at his high-profile restaurants.  The employees claimed that they were not paid overtime when they worked for over 10 hours and that Batali took the tip money to pay the salaries of sommeliers at his other New York restaurants.  The settlement comes in the wake of an overhaul of New York wage laws, which one lawyer connected with the case said made the circumstances “ambiguous”.  Overall, tip-skimming is illegal, and restaurant owners need only follow the guidelines set by the New York legislature to avoid similar lawsuits.

I went to one of these restaurants a few years ago as part of a company morale type of thing at my old job.  The food was pretty good, but not exactly worth the money paid for it.  I guess it’s more about the name at the front of the restaurant than the meal itself.  But anyway, between 20 or so people, the bill turned out to be more than $1,000 with wine and whatnot, if I recall correctly, and probably more knowing my old boss.  A 20% tip on that would be $200, and 5% of that would be $10 going to Batali’s sommeliers.  It seems like a pittance to file a lawsuit over when you look at it localized like this, but compounded over however many hundreds of meals are served per day over five years and between at least eight restaurants, this number becomes astounding.  If the tip-skimming was truly as widespread as the plaintiffs alleged, Batali should be thankful that he only had to pay $5.25 million.

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$500,000 Awarded in California Sexual Harassment Settlement


Burt Legal, a law office out of Ventura, California, announced today that it has won a judgment on behalf of its client, Kristine Avalos, for $429,779 in a sexual harassment suit.    Ms. Avalos alleged that her former employer willingly maintained a hostile work environment, forcing her to endure inappropriate and demoralizing verbal attacks, often of a sexual nature.  When she complained, the company fired her.  The lawsuit, headed by lawyer Joshua A. Burt, sought damages for wrongful termination, discrimination, and emotional trauma caused by the abusive employment.  Today’s announcement signals a victory for the downtrodden everywhere. is proud to list Burt Legal among its premium respected lawyers, and we congratulate them on their victory.  To find out more about the firm, visit their page at, or visit their website here.

How Prevalent Are Ponzi Schemes?

Ponzi schemes are difficult to unravel, not unlike a billion-piece puzzle.

Ponzi schemes have been in the news recently, but not for bad reasons.  Specifically, proposed and confirmed settlements of three big ponzi schemers have been reached with some of their victims.  The victims of Earl Jones, a convicted Québécois schemer who swindled an estimated $40 million from 150 people, have settled in a class action suit with his bank for about $18 million.  The late Kenneth Wayne McLeod, whose Capital Analysts Inc. group stole $34 million mostly from federal agents and policemen, has proposed settlement for an undisclosed amount with 140 investors (though not without some suspicion, as noted in that article).  And perhaps biggest of all, though not Madoff-big, is Scott Rothstein, the big-mouthed Florida lawyer whose Charlie-Sheen-esque ramblings during a deposition were something of a pop culture phenomenon last year.  He made off with $1.2 billion of investors’ money, with his bank recently settling for $170 million for its part in the scheme.

While reading this, I became curious as to how prevalent these Ponzi schemes are.  Presumably after Bernie Madoff made headlines with his $65 billion scheme, duping even high-profile celebrities and financial leaders, people would be more aware of what they were doing with their money.  However, Ponzi schemers are just as active as ever.  This list on Wikipedia shows 32 caught Ponzi schemers in the last decade alone — some with schemes going back ten years or more.  Just think about how many are perpetrating a fraud right now.

Read on to learn about common investment fraud tactics after the jump.

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