Saturday!

Vintage Mr Machine Robot toy TV Commercial from IDEAL

A million years ago, there was a brilliant tabletop game called “BattleTech”. You know the whole “pilots getting into the giant robot and then getting in fights with other pilots in other giant robots” thing? Yeah, this was that. You may not know that there is a *LOT* of drama circulating around BattleTech and has been since the early 80’s. Like, *COURTROOM* drama.

In 1982, Studio Nue and Big West created a great little cartoon called “Macross”. This had pilots getting into giant robots and then getting in fights. The giant robots were really awesome too. They had one that was a transformer… like, it’s a robot! Now it’s a plane! Now it’s a robot again!

(This clip is from a more recent show, but you’ll get the general idea of how *AWESOME* this was.)

Macross Transformation

Of course, the original show was awesome enough that a bunch of kids in the USA would want to watch it. A company called “Harmony Gold” got the distribution rights to the show. The show was a huge hit in the US to the point where it inspired some folks to make a tabletop game that used the giant robots in the show. (The original game was called “Battledroids” but Lucas sued because he claime ownership of the word “droid”. So it got renamed to “BattleTech” and everybody was happy.)

Anyway, Harmony Gold saw that mechs based on designs in Macross were in the game and they started suing the heck out of the tabletop people. The argument, as far as I understand it, is that Harmony Gold had the rights to commercialize Macross as part of their distribution rights. This game was commercializing Macross and, by having mechs based on the mechs in the show, this game was violating Harmony Gold’s copyright.

So the game said “fine, we’ll just get rid of the offending mechs” and came up with several dozen mechs that were not so similar to the ones in Macross. This resulted in awesome mechs no longer being in the game. The Valkyrie, the Marauder, the Warhammer, a whole bunch of mechs. Poof. Gone. (The original books now fetch a pretty penny.)

Well, Harmony Gold has been suing people who design mechs that even look halfway like the original Macross ones. Like, if there’s a mech in the background of your game that looks like a Marauder if you squint? Bam. Lawsuit. (Luckily, this most recent lawsuit against the BattleTech game guys got dismissed with prejudice because, seriously, nobody could mistake a Locust for a Marauder.)

What seems to be coming out now is that Harmony Gold’s claims to copyright are based on them purchasing the copyright from the people who made the original movie… except that the people who made the movie did not own the copyright of the mechs in question. Some other company did.

And so, for the last 36 years, Harmony Gold has been suing people over a copyright claim (based on a license to distribute) that they might not even be holding and, get this, have *NEVER* held.

It’s the Happy Birthday thing, all over again.

And it’s ironic that this is finally being discovered a few short years prior to Harmony Gold’s distribution license expiring in 2021.

So… what are you playing?

(Picture is HG Wells playing a war game from Illustrated London News (25 January 1913))


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Jaybird is Birdmojo on Xbox Live and Jaybirdmojo on Playstation's network. He's been playing consoles since the Atari 2600 and it was Zork that taught him how to touch-type. If you've got a song for Wednesday, a commercial for Saturday, a recommendation for Tuesday, an essay for Monday, or, heck, just a handful a questions, fire off an email to AskJaybird-at-gmail.com

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16 thoughts on “Saturday!

  1. Watched the clip and yes it is cool.

    But there are so many problems here. All those moving parts, something’s bound to go wrong especially when doing a transformation at, seemingly, Mach 1 within an atmosphere.

    Secondly, why have a machine transform into an anthropoid shape? Is there something uniquely advantageous of making something in our image? Sure, if we were to design brachiating robots for some unfathomable reason. Philosophically, human shaped robots illustrate hubris and a lack of scientific and engineering rigor. Why have eyes made of jelly, water, and meat when one can have eyes made of crystal or some other durable, clear material? Hubris because it’s declaring “We have become god” by creating something in Our Image when planes function better as planes, rather than some mechanical swiss army knife with a plasma rifle. Even if humanity were able to imbue these objects with a semblence of consciousness or, daresay, a soul then these gadgets would begin existence as caricatures of our warlike nature rather than becoming something else without any of humanity’s baggage.

    I’m torn between purchasing Elder Sign: Omens or Thimbleweed Park. Maybe Weird Worlds.

    P.S. I’m still upset that reinstalling Steam deleted all the ships I unlocked in FTL.

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  2. This is one of those things I don’t really talk about around here, but since it came up organically: I’m kind of a giant BattleTech fan, it’s basically my nerd heroin. I’ve been playing it for almost twenty years, and in my time with it I’ve gamed with the game’s developers, gotten credited in a few of the sourcebooks, and currently run the most popular non-canon unit on the official forums, which just hit its ten-year mark in March (that last bit always reminds me of that quote from 1990: ‘In the future, we will all be famous for fifteen people.’) A friend of a friend of mine actually works at Harebrained Schemes, and he scored me a tour of the studio and one of the flight jackets from the Kickstarter you normally had to drop like $500 to get a month back; on top of that, I got to meet Jordan Weissman, which for me is like a Catholic getting to meet Jesus Christ.

    Anyway, the drama over the ‘Unseen’, as they’re called, has been playing out in the community as long as I’ve been a part of it. In the mid-2000s the powers-that-be at the time put out a book called Project Phoenix that included new art that represented updated modern versions of those old ‘Mechs (the originals come from 3025 in the setting’s timeline, whereas the Phoenix ‘Mechs [or ‘Reseen’] were from the at-the-time-present of 3067-ish), but the response from the fans was pretty mixed. In the past few years they’ve taken another bite at the apple with a new artist but this time Harmony Gold apparently pounced, so things have been weird the last couple years while that sorts itself out. I hope they do manage to fend off HG because I love the new art they’ve done, and it seems like they will even if it takes a while.

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    • Dude! That’s awesome! I picked up BattleTech for my four-day weekend and, lemme tell ya, he captured the spirit of the tabletop game in the same way that he captured the spirit of Shadowrun.

      Harmony Gold is awful. They’re the current shining example of Copyright trolling that benefits no one.

      Their last lawsuit got dismissed WITH PREJUDICE (which is awesome) but I am very, very frustrated by this sneaking suspicion that they’re going to successfully be a dog in the manger until early 2023 or so by suing anybody and everybody who sketches something that looks vaguely like a Warhammer despite never having held the copyright in the first place.

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  3. I’m wondering if this musing on Battletech is not a foreshadowing of you having strong feelings about the forthcoming Pacific Rim 2, which by many accounts looks to have the potential of being a hot mess?

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