Ikea’s legal action raises debate over IP in video games
Ikea, the Swedish furniture retailer with hundreds of stores around the globe, has threatened legal action against the developer of The Store Is Closed, a survival horror video game that takes place in an Ikea-like store.
The game's lone developer studio based in the UK, who goes by the name ‘Ziggy’, released a successful Kickstarter campaign and a trailer for the game on YouTube, which quickly went viral.
In response, Ikea’s legal team sent a cease-and-desist letter, informing Jacob Shaw, the lone wolf behind Ziggy’s name, that they are aware of the likeness between the store and his game.
"Your game uses a blue and yellow sign with a Scandinavian name on the store, a blue box-like building, yellow vertical striped shirts identical to those worn by Ikea personnel, a grey path on the floor, furniture that looks like Ikea furniture, and product signage that looks like Ikea signage. All the foregoing immediately suggest that the game takes place in an Ikea store."
However, the letter does not obligate Shaw to shut down his game project if he compromises himself to change the similarities within 10 days of the receipt of the letter. In a contact with the video games website Kotaku, Ikea UK said: “While we think it’s flattering that others are inspired by the IKEA brand, we must be diligent to ensure that the IKEA trademarks and trade dress are not misapplied.
“Various elements of the video game currently correspond in appearance with the IKEA brand features. We’ve reached out to the creator of the video and asked them to make changes to those elements to ensure that this is no longer the case.
“They expressed that they understand our request and agreed to make those changes. This should all be well in time for the expected 2024 launch of the game.”
The legal dispute between Ikea and Ziggy raises important questions about intellectual property rights in the gaming industry.
Video games often incorporate real-world elements, such as brand names, logos, objects and store layouts, into their games in order to create a more immersive experience for the player. While this may be seen as a form of homage or satire, it can also be viewed as infringing on the IP rights of the brand/product owner.
In the case of The Store Is Closed, Shaw argues that Ikea’s complaints about the furniture are a little vague. “Furniture that looks like Ikea furniture, that's not particularly specific," he said. But he also said that is better not to get sued.
However, Ikea argues that the game's use of a brand that strongly resembles itself and its store layout goes beyond fair use and infringes on its IP rights. Ikea's stance is that the game could potentially damage its brand and reputation, and it is therefore within its rights to take legal action.
During its life as a Kickstarter project, Shaw’s title has earned around £78,328, nearly eight times more than its initial goal of £10,000. “I was going to spend the last week of my Kickstarter preparing an update for all the new alpha testers (…) But now I've got to desperately revamp the entire look of the game, so I don't get sued," Shaw told Kotaku.
In conclusion, the possibility of a dispute between Ikea and Ziggy highlights the complex issues surrounding IP rights in the gaming industry. While both parties have valid arguments, the outcome of a lawsuit would have far-reaching implications for the industry and for the rights of creators to use existing works in transformative ways.
As the gaming industry continues to evolve, it will be important to find a balance between protecting IP rights and fostering creativity and innovation.
The Store Is Closed is still under development, with a release date predicted for some time in 2024.
This is a co-published article, which was originally published in the World Intellectual Property Review (WIPR).