The rock group No Doubt has sued video game maker Activision Publishing, Inc. over Activision’s use of No Doubt avatars in the video game “Band Hero.” According to the complaint, Activision was authorized to make use of the band members’ likenesses in three No Doubt songs featured in Band Hero, but Activision exceeded their agreement with No Doubt by allowing the band to appear in more than 60 songs.
The dispute centers, in part, on the game’s Character Manipulation Feature. According to an article in the Los Angeles Times:
“Rock band No Doubt has filed a real-world lawsuit over its virtual role in the just-released Band Hero edition of the Guitar Hero video game series, contending that the game has ‘transformed No Doubt band members into a virtual karaoke circus act,’ singing dozens of songs the group neither wrote, popularized nor approved for use in the game.
[…] the game’s Character Manipulation Feature, Stefani’s image can be induced to sing the Rolling Stones’ “Honky Tonk Women.”
‘While No Doubt are avid fans of the Rolling Stones and even have performed in concerts with the Rolling Stones,’ the complaint says, ‘the Character Manipulation Feature results in an unauthorized performance by the Gwen Stefani avatar in a male voice boasting about having sex with prostitutes.'”
This case raises some interesting questions about the scope of premitted uses of avatars. Celebrities clearly have a right to compensation for use of their likenesses, but game makers will make the argument that they need to build flexibility into their games. Regardless of how this case shakes out, the real takeaway for game makers and celebrities alike is that it’s important to have a contract in place that is very specific about the range of uses for avatars and to adhere closely to what the contract says.