Putt-Putt fighting to close Minecraft's holes

3 min read

Contrary to popular belief, Putt-Putt isn’t just slang for mini-golf – it’s actually a registered trademark.  And they are going after Mojang for infringement over the increasingly popular Putt-Putt maps and let’s plays on YouTube.  But is the case even viable?

Normally with copyright/trademark infringement, it’s pretty open and shut.  If you used the trademark without permission, it’s infringement.  However, Minecraft is as open-world sandbox as you can get – players can create all manner of worlds, plus there are mods to facilitate build-types, extra creatures and various textures.  How far can Mojang be held responsible for the creations of their user-base?

Markus Persson, aka Notch, tweeted the image of the cease and desist letter, saying “Putt Putt being silly”.  Looking through the letter, I see a few things that could hurt Putt-Putt’s case.

First and foremost, they say:

“…Mojang AB, and each and every person, agent, and entity affiliated with Mojang AB, will immediately refrain from all use of the Putt-Putt trademark in connection with your business.”

As far as my legal knowledge is concerned, Mojang has no control over the players of its games in this regard.  It would be like suing twitter for all the hate speech that people spew there.  Mojang is no more responsible for the Putt-Putt usage in Minecraft as it is for the recreations of Mount Erebor or the town of Dale.  So far, I haven’t seen Tolkien’s estate suing over use of that IP.

Then we have the actual phrasing of the letter:

“We feel that Mojang AB’s use of the Putt-Putt name has benefited Mojang AB to the detriment of Putt-Putt.”

This is going to be a hard one to prove.  In order to legal prove this, Putt-Putt will need to demonstrate how it has been to the detriment of their trademark, while benefitting Mojang.  Seeing as these are all user created maps, Mojang has already received any benefit when those players purchased the game.  Most people who build such maps on Minecraft fall into two categories: either they have no interest in actually playing mini-golf but enjoy the challenge of building maps in Minecraft, or they are already mini-golf obsessed and are simply carrying this obsession over into the world of Minecraft.  In what way is Putt-Putt losing business or brand power?

Finally, we have the issue of the enclosures.  These are the people who are CCed on the letter, meaning it is pertinent to them as well.  Funny story there – they included Don Mattrick in the letter, who has since moved to Zynga.  I wonder if he’ll still have to respond to the letter.

So, open and shut case?  Or something more complicated?  Now I sorta want to create a giant Napster themed map with all kinds of music, movie and art IP infringement, just to see if anyone else jumps on it.

Last Updated: July 10, 2013

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