Trademark infringement

trademarkWas it only Friday that I launched my series of books based on the computer game Minecraft? How cruel that the very next day I should receive an email from Mojang – the company that makes Minecraft – telling me that I had infringed their trademark and that I must withdraw my books from sale.

I am – of course – very much aware of the law relating to trademarks. I had – of course – read the company’s policy towards use of their trademarks. I had – of course – taken the greatest care to comply with their requirements. I honestly believed that this document – https://account.mojang.com/terms#brand – granted me permission to use their trademark “MINECRAFT” in my books. Mojang’s founder, Notch, has been a powerful advocate for internet freedom and Mojang has positively encouraged third-party products such as software mods and Minecraft multi-player servers.

But when I wrote to the company explaining how I had taken every care to comply with their terms and conditions, they replied that:

“When the word Minecraft is used on a book cover  … we are not okay with it anymore”

Times change, it seems. Mojang is being acquired by Microsoft, and its founders are leaving. And legal documents are slippery things that can be reinterpreted by lawyers according to a company’s changing priorities.

Was I unfairly singled out by the company? After all, there are hundreds, if not thousands of unofficial Minecraft-branded products for sale on Amazon alone. It seems not. When I queried this fact with Mojang, they told me that:

“We are in the process of contacting all third parties that infringe the Terms and Brand Guidelines.”

So, apologies to everyone who read my blog post on Friday. My books are no longer for sale.

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36 responses to “Trademark infringement

  1. Bummer. That, to me, seems ridiculous. I think I will contact each and every blogger who uses the name “Doobster” and send them each a cease and desist order unless they can prove that they were using “Doobster” before I was. But wait, then they might make me cease and desist. Oh the webs we weave.

  2. Can you repackage what you’ve written to save your book series?

    • I don’t think so. It’s not just the name. The books are completely based around the Minecraft game. That was the whole point of the series, and I believed that the company supported such activities.

  3. There’s no way to change the name? Switch out a few details?

  4. Oh how sad – is there no way to acquire the rights? The story really sells the game. Perhaps contact the marketing department?

  5. Sorry Steve. That’s a shame.

  6. I am so sorry. After all of the hard work you did and hope you had for them, I really feel for you.

  7. Today I received an email from a school librarian saying that they love the first book and would like to buy the entire series. I am finding this whole experience quite heart-breaking.

    To my great frustration, a search on Amazon for “minecraft” shows more than 65,000 products for sale. I wonder if a company loses its rights if it fails to enforce them?

    • It seems short sighted on Mojang’s part. A healthy thriving ecosystem of books and add-ons seems like it would be in their best interest. But it sounds like they plan to strangle it. That makes me wonder about Minecraft’s future.

  8. Oh, I’m so sorry that happened! I feel just awful for you that you’ve lost all of that work and time. 😦

  9. Wow. How about you write a series of books based on a project, do due diligence on all legalities & technicalities and still get shut down, is that infringement? Oh wait, that says MS all over it.

  10. Ellen Morris Prewitt

    That is truly a disappointment – I’m so sorry

  11. Very sorry! Could you just alter the name slightly?

  12. I had 13 Minecraft books on Amazon, and 10 of them were blocked for the same reason. I went ahead and removed the other three. Like you, I was under the impression that it was okay if you followed the guidelines. After all some people are making millions (MILLIONS) from Minecraft videos on YouTube.

    I asked if it was okay to sell the books if you put “Unofficial” in the title, but I didn’t get a reply. My free book was one of the most popular Minecraft books on Amazon, and I was making a decent living from the books.

    I also get emails from teachers and kids telling me how much they love my books. That’s why I’m trying to see if there’s a way to still keep them online.

    Which is why I asked them about putting unofficial in the title. “Invasion of the Overworld” is easily the most popular Minecraft book on Amazon, and none of the authors books were blocked. Which makes me think that they couldn’t block them because they had to see them.

    The author uses unofficial in the title and says Minecrafter’s instead of Minecraft. Plus he doesn’t use any artwork from the game for his covers. All of it looks original.

    I’m thinking about trying the same thing, and Mojang’s silence is making me think there’s a loophole like the one mentioned above. I think I’ll wait until December, and if the other books are still there I may try again.

    It sucks because they didn’t care until they were bought out by Microsoft.

    -DeShaun

    • Hi DeShaun, Thanks for your comment. Sorry to hear your story. Having 13 books removed is much worse than what happened to me (I lost 4 books). Mojang’s instructions for using their trademark commercially are several pages long and give detailed rules to follow. But right at the end of the document is a clause that basically says, you can’t use the trademark even if you follow these rules.
      Like you, I am receiving messages from parents and teachers whose children loved the books.
      Do let me know what happens to you.
      Thanks,
      Steve

      • I note that ‘Invasion of the Overworld’, although it doesn’t use the word ‘Minecraft’, still uses a ‘Steve’ character and an Enderman on the cover, even though they are original drawings, not screenshots.

        But a search for ‘minecraft’ on amazon generates more than 60,000 products, many of which use the word ‘Minecraft’ in the title. So who knows?

  13. DeShaun, the Amazon page that allows Mojang to remove a book is here:
    https://www.amazon.com/gp/help/reports/infringement
    There are only two valid reasons for removing a product. Either
    1) Trademark is used without authorization
    OR
    2) Copyrighted or trademarked image is used without authorization.

    The email I received gives “trademark concerns over the term MINECRAFT” as the reason. So, probably if you remove the word Minecraft from the book title, description and text, and do not copy any images you should be safe.

    I’m no lawyer, but I suspect that using the word “unofficial” won’t help. Also a word like Minecrafter is probably not allowed either. As I say, I’m not a lawyer, so I can’t be sure.

    Good luck with your books!

    • I discovered some more information about the Minecraft trademark. Mojang’s first trademark application did not apply to books. The company applied for an expanded trademark on 3rd April 2013, which extended their rights to include books and many other products. So, I am guessing that any book published before 3rd April 2013 cannot be blocked by Mojang, because they have no legal right to do so.

      • Interesting, thanks for all the info, Steve! I actually contacted the guy who writes the Invasion of the Overworld books and he said his publisher handles everything, he didn’t even know about books being blocked.

        My books were published after that date. I want to fix them, but that may be a waste of time. So I think I’ll just cut my loses and work on something else.

  14. HI Steve,
    I read this post a couple of weeks ago before heading out to the grocery store.. The young man who was my checkout person is also a gamer in his free time. Now this is a true story…I told him about your unfortunate experience with Minecraft and he was able to quote chapter and verse about your situation. He knew like everything, names, dates, other situations, who to point fingers at etc about what you were up against and why.
    So here’s the take away: talk to and take advice from your local gamers, who likely are working at the local grocery store, before you base your decisions on what a website says.
    The rational? Well, to quote Dave’s mother on page 300, “it’s the world around you that’s crazy.”
    Good luck with your next project.

  15. Just an update, I heard pack from Mojang again. Here’s what they had to say:

    “We’re sorry but we can’t advise publishers individually on their books and, because of that, we don’t review independent publications or request reinstatement.

    We really do love people doing creative things with Minecraft both in the game and around it – we just don’t want people going too far and start misusing our copyright and /or trade mark rights originally – which is what has actually happened in this case. We’ve explained this further in the Brand Guidelines, so please do take a look.

    Hopefully this helps you understand our position and, whilst our rights remain reserved, if you make sure your book complies with the Brand Guidelines then we shouldn’t have any problems with your republishing it. However it is your responsibility to ensure that your book is compliant.”

    So basically my take away is — they don’t care if you right Minecraft themed books, as long as they don’t use Minecraft in the title or any of the artwork/logos (like the Creeper face, it’s trademarked).

    They blocked my books at the end of October, and The Invasion of the Overworld book is still there. This makes it clear that they don’t care about that book because it doesn’t actually use Minecraft in the title, and the artwork is original (even the Enderman on the cover looks different, and the main person does too).

    All of this is confusing, but I saved their email. I’m going to continue to write Minecraft books, but I won’t use any of their trademarks. Even in the books I’ll just refer to Minecraft as “the game” just to be safe.

  16. I hope that works out and that you can continue to sell your books. Out of interest, can you say what your books were/are called?

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