Harmony Gold's Copyright Claim Against BattleTech Developers Dismissed by Court

An American court ruled in favor of Battletech developer Harebrained Schemes, dismissing the copyright infringement case by Harmony Gold.

The saga of the “Unseen” mechs in the BattleTech/MechWarrior franchise has been going on for over two decades. It all begun when the creators of the franchise at FASA Corporation licensed the rights to use robot designs from a few anime series including the classic Macross from Twentieth Century Imports.

Turned out that Twentieth Century Imports might not have been in a position to grant that license at all, which resulted in a legal battle that ended without a clear answer and an out-of-court settlement. In the end, FASA agreed not to use those designs anymore and ended up creating its own artwork to replace them. Those original designs were defined “Unseen.”

In 2001 FASA went bankrupt, and the BattleTech franchise was gradually confined to relative obscurity after the MechWarrior Mercenaries video game series was abandoned by Microsoft Game Studios. Things continued to go on out of the spotlight, but due to the changed artwork, most believed that the Unseen issue was solved.

Fast forward to today, and the franchise is coming back in a big way thanks to Piranha Games’ MechWarrior Online, and the upcoming MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries, and Harebrained Schemes’ BattleTech, which was just released yesterday.

You may know the American motion picture production company Harmony Gold USA, that is responsible for creating that despicable Frankenstein monster named Robotech by splicing together the three anime series Super Dimension Fortress MacrossSuper Dimension Cavalry Southern Cross, and Genesis Climber Mospeada. They originally had nothing to do with each other, and the cut-and-paste hack job basically ruined one of the best sci-fi anime series of all time.

Harmony Gold alleges to have been given exclusive rights to the use of the Macross mecha designs, and since they apparently aren’t happy with being hated only by every self-respecting anime fan in the west for what they did with Robotech, they thought it was a great idea to pick a fight with the gaming industry as well.

Back in March, they filed a court case against Harebrained Schemes and Piranha Games, accusing them of copyright infringement over the Unseen mech, despite the fact that both studios have been using the new designs created after the previous case instead of the original designs from Macross.

Harmony Gold feels that those designs are still similar to those from the Japanese anime series and since they’re working on a Robotech live action movie, they’ve been demanding the court to drop the axe on Harebrained Schemes’ and Piranha Games’mecha.

A few days ago, the first half of the case has been resolved, with the court dismissing Harmony Gold’s case against Harebrained Schemes with prejudice, which means that it cannot be brought up again. Below you can see an extract of the ruling.

This might be unsurprising to anyone who actually knows both BattleTech and Macross, since the folks at Harmony Gold don’t even seem to have a clear idea of the correspondence between the robots from Macross and the Mech that were inspired by them. Among other farfetched comparisons, they alleged that the Atlas was copied from an Armored Valkyrie, and the Locust was inspired by Macross‘ Glaug.

This is pretty funny, because not only they look as similar as Mazinger Z and a Gundam RX-78, but the Glaugh actually inspired the unseen design of the Marauder, and the Armored Valkyrie was behind the unseen Crusader. Neither of them had anything to do with the Locust or the Atlas at any point in this long-running farce.

Now that Harebrained Schemes is in the clear (hopefully for good), we’re still waiting for a solution of the case against Piranha Games, that actually recently scored a rather solid hit. The studio found out that Tatsunoko, that originally provided the rights for Macross to Harmony Gold, probably wasn’t in the position to assign any license for the mecha designs, which instead belong to Big West and Studio Nue. If the court accepts this position, which is supported by a past arbitration, HG would not have a case anymore.

At the moment we’ll have to wait and see what happens with this branch on the case, but score one for the good guys. In the meanwhile, you can check out our review of BattleTech, which is definitely worth your time.


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Giuseppe Nelva

Hailing from sunny (not as much as people think) Italy and long standing gamer since the age of Mattel Intellivision and Sinclair ZX Spectrum. Definitely a multi-platform gamer, he still holds the old dear PC nearest to his heart, while not disregarding any console on the market. RPGs (of any nationality) and MMORPGs are his daily bread, but he enjoys almost every other genre, prominently racing simulators, action and sandbox games. He is also one of the few surviving fans of the flight simulator genre on Earth.

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