Amanda Lewis, an ex-employee of Activision Blizzard, has been “WOW’d” by the loss of her recent federal copyright infringement suit against the video-game publishing powerhouse.
Activision, along with co-defendant, Blizzard Entertainment Inc., developed and distributed the chart- and revenue-topping online game, World of Warcraft (WOW). While working as a “game master” for WOW, Lewis’ job included a role in creating content and helping customers. When Activision emailed its employees about an open-auditions for game voice-over work, Lewis sought and won the gig. She twice recorded the voice for a “baby murloc,” a new promotional character, during her normal work hours and was paid her usual, hourly rate. Activision, however, failed to inform Lewis that her voice could be used for other reasons.
After she had been terminated from Activision, she discovered that the character and her voice had been made part of the game itself and she sued for copyright infringement, alleging that her previous employer used her recordings without her consent.
Activision sought summary judgment against Lewis, asserting that her claim failed for two reasons: 1) She didn’t own a copyright in the voice of the character because it was a work made for hire, and 2) Activision was a joint author, and. therefore, could not be held liable for copyright infringement.
The court focused on whether Lewis was “employed to perform” her voice-overs, ultimately finding Lewis was; the judicial reasoning reinforces the importance of employee orientation and training manuals, especially those that provide descriptions and frameworks for workers’ duties. Activision prevailed in this case because its training manual read in pertinent part that game masters are “responsible for… assisting with the creation of content during the ever ongoing development of the game.”