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No Doubt sues Activision over Band Hero [Updated]

November 4, 2009 | 11:28 am


Rock band No Doubt has filed a real-world lawsuit over its virtual role in the just-released Band Hero edition of the Guitar Hero video game series, claiming that the game has “transformed No Doubt band members into a virtual karaoke circus act,” singing dozens of songs the group neither wrote, popularized nor approved for use in the game.

In a suit filed today in Los Angeles Superior Court, the band alleges that Santa Monica-based Activision, the maker of the game, has far exceeded the contractually approved use of likenesses, or avatars, of band members Gwen Stefani, Tony Kanal, Tom Dumont and Adrian Young.

[Updated at 1:04 p.m.: “The band [members] are bitterly disappointed that their name and likeness was taken and used without their permission,” manager Jim Guerinot said today. “They agreed to play three No Doubt songs as a band.... Activision then went and put them in 62 other songs and broke the band up [and] never even asked.”]

[Updated at 2:25 p.m.: In a statement issued this afternoon, the company said: “Activision believes it is within its legal rights with respect to the use and portrayal of the band members in the game and that this lawsuit is without merit.”]

The suit also charges that the game allows users to manipulate their characters to sing songs popularized by other pop music acts. No Doubt’s contract with Activision allowed the company to use the band’s music and likenesses in no more than three of the band’s own songs, the suit states. The game, which was released Tuesday, puts the group members’ images, collectively and individually, into more than 60 songs, “many of which include lyrics, contained in iconic songs, which are not appropriate for No Doubt and have not been and would not have been chosen by No Doubt for recordings or public performances.”

Specifically, the suit notes that through the game’s Character Manipulation Feature, Stefani’s image can be induced to sing the Rolling Stones’ “Honky Tonk Women.”

“While No Doubt are avid fans of the Rolling Stones and even have performed in concerts with the Rolling Stones,” the complaint states, “the Character Manipulation Feature results in an unauthorized performance by the Gwen Stefani avatar in a male voice boasting about having sex with prostitutes.”

It also states that bassist Kanal’s likeness can be manipulated to sing, in a female voice, one of No Doubt’s signature hits, “Just a Girl.”

“Activision has deceived and confused the public into believing that No Doubt authorized the use of its name and likeness for the Character Manipulation Feature of Band Hero and that No Doubt approves and endorses the appearance of its members individually performing songs that are wholly inappropriate and out of character for No Doubt,” according to the complaint.

[Updated at 2:25 p.m.: “Some of the world’s most popular and iconic artists have been featured in Guitar Hero as playable characters, and we are proud to count No Doubt among them,” Activision’s statement said. “Activision has a written agreement to use No Doubt in Band Hero – an agreement signed by No Doubt after extensive negotiations with its  representatives, who collectively have decades of experience in the entertainment industry. Pursuant to that agreement, Activision worked with No Doubt and the band’s management in developing Band Hero…. Activision is exploring its own legal options with respect to No Doubt’s obligations under the agreement.”]

The suit states that Activision executives withheld disclosure of the character manipulation feature, and refused the band’s request to remove or disable it in conjunction with the No Doubt avatars after the band learned how they were being used. The complaint says Activision officials told the band that doing so would be “too expensive.”

[Updated at 1:04 p.m.: “Perhaps most disappointing is when Activision was made aware of the problem, rather than make a fix they admit was technically feasible, they made a business decision that both the time and money required to do the right thing were too much,” Guerinot said. “I guess they are developing the next level of the game: corporate Rock Hero.”]

The suit asks for unspecified actual and punitive damages, a temporary restraining order, a preliminary injunction and a permanent injunction against distribution of the game and for Activision to recall existing copies.

[Updated at 1:40 p.m.: In September, after Nirvana leader Kurt Cobain’s likeness was used in Guitar Hero 5, his widow, Courtney Love, and former bandmates Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic complained that the game placed him in front of other bands singing their hits. In that instance, Activision said the company had received written permission from Love to use Cobain’s likeness as a fully playable character. She subsequently Twittered that she had “never signed [off] on the avatar.”]

-- Randy Lewis

Photo: No Doubt's Gwen Stefani. Credit: Ken Hively / Los Angeles Times


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