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EA sues Zynga for copyright infringement

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Things just went from bad to worse for beleaguered social game maker Zynga.

On Friday, EA filed a lawsuit against Zynga, accusing the company of directly copying elements from EA's The Sims Social in Zynga's recently released The Ville game.

"In legal terms, our claim is that Zynga copied the original and distinctive expressive elements of The Sims Social in a clear violation of the U.S. copyright laws," said Lucy Bradshaw, general manager of Sims maker EA/Maxis, in a blog post.

According to the complaint, EA contends that The Ville, released in June, copies multiple elements of The Sims Social, a Facebook version of EA's long-running franchise released back in 2011. From broad design choices to animations and character actions, EA believes Zynga has crossed the line and is engaging in 'blatant mimicry'.

It's hardly the first time Zynga has been called out for cloning another game. Earlier this year, the creators of iOS hit Tiny Tower took Zynga to task for copying their game. And back in 2009, the makers of social game Mob Wars had some unflattering words for Zynga over their much bigger hit, Mafia Wars.

But EA's involvement marks a turning point for the fight against Zynga's predilection for plagiarism -- and EA knows it.

"This is a case of principle," Bradshaw says. "Maxis isn't the first studio to claim that Zynga copied its creative product.  But we are the studio that has the financial and corporate resources to stand up and do something about it.  Infringing a developer's copyright is not an acceptable practice in game development.  By calling Zynga out on this illegal practice, we hope to have a secondary effect of protecting the rights of other creative studios who don't have the resources to protect themselves."

It's just the latest batch of bad news for Zynga. Last week, the company's stock tanked following a poor earnings report. Worse yet, Zynga execs have been accused of engaging in insider trading via multiple lawsuits.

Despite those headaches, Zynga isn't taking EA's suit lying down.

"The Ville is the newest game in our 'ville' franchise — it builds on every major innovation from our existing invest-and-express games dating back to YoVille and continuing through CityVille and CastleVille, and introduces a number of new social features and game mechanics not seen in social games today," said Reggie Davis, Zynga's general counsel, in a statement. "It's unfortunate that EA thought that this was an appropriate response to our game, and clearly demonstrates a lack of understanding of basic copyright principles."

"It's also ironic that EA brings this suit shortly after launching SimCity Social which bears an uncanny resemblance to Zynga's CityVille game. Nonetheless, we plan to defend our rights to the fullest extent possible and intend to win with players."

So that last bit is a little crazy. It's one thing to claim that The Ville simply iterates on past Zynga games -- Zynga's "-ville" franchise is really just one game model with slightly different themes -- but to suggest that The Sims Social is itself a ripoff is somewhat presumptive and, one could say, weirdly ignorant of video game history. The Sims series dates back to 2000, though if you want to get even more hardcore, you could argue that all of these sorts of games owe a tip of the hat to 1989's SimCity. Zynga might be barking up the wrong tree with that argument.

Still, it's clear that the two sides are digging in for a fight.

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