The story of entertainment across decades is seemingly one of misappropriation or credit unduly denied, if the historiography of the various composite industries are to be believed. Really, they’re stories about power: who holds it, who doesn’t, and how those with the power are able to use it to exploit those without power or recourse.
The modern version of that dynamic hasn’t necessarily change all that much, save for one key aspect: everything we do is documented, making it harder for those in power to plausibly deny violating copyright or trademark, though certainly they won’t be deterred from trying.
One instance of late involves Call of Duty, the video game franchise that is no stranger to IP concerns or complaints. The companies overseeing the games, Activision and Infinity Ward, have been hit with a lawsuit by writer Clayton Haugen, who claims that the series took a character of his creation for use in the game Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, per Marc Deschamps at ComicBook.com.
At issue is a character Haugen created for a film project entitled November Renaissance, which he was in the process of pitching to studios in 2017. As part of that effort, Haugen hired an actress and model named Alex Zedra to portray the character “Cade Janus” from the film for a series of photographs to be included with the pitch. The photos were also subsequently posted to Haugen’s website and Instagram account, which is to say that they were broadly available to those who might be looking.
Who was looking, per Hauger’s version of events, was the team at Activision/Infinity Ward, who were looking to change up the CoD franchise to reflect calls for new and more diverse characters in the game. In Hauger’s version of events, Activision not only saw and referenced those photos but even went so far as to hire Zedra and replicate the same hair, makeup and costume to model a new character upon, and had her and others sign non-disclosure agreements to cover up the misappropriation.
The pictures included with Comicbook.com’s story as well as our gained understanding of how big businesses work in the entertainment industry certainly gives credence to Hauger’s story, but it’s still upon him to prove that Activision's copying of the character was deliberate and not a happy accident. It’s hard for individuals to work through a long, arduous court process, and far easier for both individual and corporation to agree to a dollar figure that makes the whole thing go away. Ultimately, that means some degree of impunity for companies big enough and rich enough to buy their way out of any IP case, or any case, for that matter.