Activision sues Guitar Hero developers

Publisher files suit against series producer, brand manager, hardware group member, RedOctane's PR firm, and unlicensed peripheral manufacturer The Ant Commandos.


Last year, Guitar Hero publisher RedOctane and parent company Activision sued The Ant Commandos, a company that makes unlicensed guitar controllers for the popular rhythm game. They claimed that the peripheral maker infringed on its trademarks. The Ant Commandos filed a countersuit alleging that RedOctane copied the official Guitar Hero peripheral's design from its parent company's "Magical Guitar" controller, released years earlier for Konami's Guitar Freaks line of games. By year's end, the two companies had settled their dispute.

Now Activision is suing The Ant Commandos again, with a complaint filed in US District Court in Los Angeles last month. But the peripheral maker has some company this time. Three people who worked on Guitar Hero and PR firm Reverb Communications were also named as defendants. Reverb formerly represented RedOctane, and last month announced that it was providing services to The Ant Commandos. In the same press release, The Ant Commandos announced that Reverb's vice president of business development had joined its board of directors. Harmonix, the studio that developed the first two Guitar Hero games, is not named or involved in the suit.

According to legal filings in the case, three of the people who worked on Guitar Hero II for RedOctane--executive producer John Tam, brand manager Corey Fong, and hardware group member Jamie Yang--started a new company in conjunction with The Ant Commandos, referred to as both Lodestone Entertainment and Hourglass Interactive.

Activision is accusing the three workers of copyright infringement, trademark infringement, misappropriating trade secrets and confidential information, breach of contract, interference with contractual relations, and more.

The publisher has already obtained a temporary restraining order against the developers, preventing them from distributing a demo Tam created. The demo incorporated elements of Guitar Hero and StepMania, a free dance game for the PC that supports dance pads and includes a step editor. The restraining order also prevents them from "taking any steps to develop, market, manufacture, sell, or distribute any guitar or drum based video games," unless The Ant Commandos can produce evidence that such a game was developed without the involvement of the trio or Reverb Communications.

Furthermore, the three developers are prevented from using or disclosing any knowledge of Activision trade secrets they have. The order specifically mentions things like contract terms for music licensing and in-game advertising, sales figures, marketing plans, product designs, and possible future songs and artists to be featured. They are also restrained from taking any steps to develop a guitar controller for the Xbox 360 edition of Guitar Hero II until the game has been on shelves for at least three months.

Finally, the developers have been ordered not to solicit Activision employees, partners, or Asia-based manufacturing vendors.

The developers' lawyer, representatives for Reverb and The Ant Commandos, and a representative with Activision all declined to comment on the suit.

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