The rapid and relentless technological evolution we witness on a daily basis also besets copyright law, leading professionals in the field to assess the existence of plagiarism and Copyright infringement no longer only in the conventional areas of music or movies but also in the world of video/computer games.

In the video/computer games sector, Intellectual Property pertains to different areas of protection, starting from the characters to the set designs that make up the video game and ending to the protection of the software itself. It should be kept in mind, however, that in the world of computer games, the copying of software source code is almost never the main issue; instead, cases original creations developed by software houses are taken over – not always in a lawful manner – dominate the scene. The word “original” is of crucial importance in this field, in that copyright does not protect ideas in and of itself but rather its originality, the expression of it, the way it is developed,

And it is precisely with regard to this issue that the world of video gamers (and others!) has been in turmoil recently.

On 19 January, the Japanese company Pocket Pair Inc. (Pocketpair) launched its new video game Palworld, a survival video game whose success is the result, yes of the compelling game dynamics, but especially of a set of characters (the Pals) that have captured the attention of fans, leading the company that launched them to sell eight million copies in less than a week. However, it has not escaped the notice of either fans of the game or the industry as a whole that the Pals are quite similar in graphics and aesthetic elements to the well-known Pokémon characters of The Pokémon Company (Nintendo),

Industry experts, lawyers and the respective corporate entities have recently been speaking out on this. Is there a possibility, then, that the Pocketpair characters are actually a copy (and not even a sophisticated one) of Pokémon?

According to Pocketpair CEO, Takuro Mizobe, Palworld has obtained the necessary permissions and passed the legal checks required for the launch of a video game, stressing that Palworld offers a different gaming experience than that provided by Pokèmon and that there was never any intention to infringe on Nintendo’s intellectual property. On the other hand, the media insistence and uproar aroused by the case prompted The Pokémon Company and Nintendo to issue an official statement in which they confirmed their willingness to investigate the matter and take appropriate measures to deal with any possible infringement of the intellectual property of the Pokémon characters.

But is there really a risk of a plagiarism charge for Pocketpair? From a legal point of view, copyright prohibits third parties from copying/reproducing the original artwork created by other parties.  At first glance, it appears that the characters in Palworld have undergone enough processing to ensure their originality and enough variations have been made to them to make them different from PokemonPokémon. However, professional 3D graphics experts have found that the proportions of the 3D models of the Pals are exactly identical to the proportions of PokemonPokémon, measurements that cannot possibly be replicated through simple inspiration but only by being copied.

As if that were not enough, there is another matter under discussion related to the image of Pokémon. Palworld’s gameplay dynamics involve Pals using firearms and engaging in poaching activities, making the experience quite violent and antithetical to the nature and typical dynamics of Pokémon gaming. The resemblance of the characters, coupled with this circumstance, could lead users to believe that Pokémon somehow endorse the gun culture that the Pals are practising, a message that would damage the image of The Pokémon Company and Nintendo and provide them with a viable foothold for a lawsuit.

Assuming, then, that Nintendo/The Pokémon Company decides to file a lawsuit against Pocketpair, what arguments would it have?

Undoubtedly the characters have several points in common but also differences that could justify an artistic creation endowed with its own originality. The fact that the 3D models employed by Palworld are exactly identical to those of Pokémon may be one of the most relevant arguments in a hypothetical case before a court, along with the image damage related to the reference to violence used by Pocketpair in its video game.

In any case, the outcome of legal proceedings to establish the infringement of Pokémon’s Copyright would be far from a foregone conclusion: any lawsuit would likely be quite complex and would generate a not insignificant media buzz that would affect both companies. In addition to this, were Nintendo to lose the case, it would set a dangerous precedent: other gaming companies might in fact feel “permitted” to take their cues from Pokémon, leading to an uncontrolled proliferation of more or less legitimate instances of inspiration drawn from the well-known characters and their adventures.

For the time being, therefore, no action appears to have been taken by Nintendo/The World of Pokémon against Pocketpair. But how much longer can Palworld and its Pals be said to be safe?