The Call of Duty series has been massively successful since it began in 2003, most recently with Call of Duty: WW2 making half a billion dollars during its launch weekend. But is the series’ success actually built upon copyright infringement?
That’s the question that AM General, the maker of the “Humvee” military vehicle is asking in a new lawsuit. The High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle four-wheel drive military vehicle (HMMWV or Humvee) has been used by the United States military in for several decades, including in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Call of Duty games have taken players to these conflict zones and so have featured military trucks, too. AM General says the games “feature AM General’s trademarks and vehicles bearing the distinctive elements of the AM General Trade Dress.” AM General’s suit also includes screenshots from the series’ official strategy guides that explicitly refer to the Humvee vehicle and images of Humvee vehicles used to promote the series in real life.
AM General argues that the success of Call of Duty came “only at the expense of AM General and consumers who are deceived into believing that AM General licenses the games or is somehow connected with or involved in the creation of the games.” It says that Call of Duty publisher Activision was wrong to do this and is asking for compensatory, punitive, and triple damages as well as a permanent injunction against the use of its intellectual property.
The newly filed lawsuit inspires several questions, including why AM General waited until now to take Activision to court. The “infringing” games have been around for several years now and have raked in a lot of money. For example, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 made $1 billion in just over two weeks when it was released in 2011. Why didn’t the Humvee maker take a stand then instead?
Likewise, why didn’t Activision pay to license the Humvee from AM General? AM General has licensed its vehicle to other games, including Delta Force: Black Hawk Down and Operation Flashpoint: Red River, and so may have granted a license to Activision too.
What’s also unclear is how much of an impact use the of Humvee vehicles made on Call of Duty sales – if it made an impact at all. Exactly how many people bought the game specifically because of the use of military trucks, as opposed to the series’ first-person shooter gameplay?
This isn’t the first time that the Call of Duty series has been involved in a major lawsuit and given the size and success of the games, it’s unlikely to be the last. But considering how important the series is to Activision, it stands to reason that the publisher isn’t going to give up without a fight.