Author of The Tetris Effect Sues Apple and the Tetris Company for Copyright Infringement over Release of the Tetris Movie

Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati

Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati

On August 7, 2023, Dan Ackerman, author of the nonfiction book, The Tetris Effect, sued Apple, the Tetris Company, and several other parties following the release of the Tetris film on Apple TV+ in March 2023.

The lawsuit, filed in a New York federal court, alleges that the defendants engaged in willful copyright infringement of The Tetris Effect. The lawsuit also claims that the Tetris Company and certain other defendants involved in the creation of the film engaged in unfair competition and tortious interference with business relations.

What Is the Case About?

According to Mr. Ackerman’s complaint, he began the creative process for The Tetris Effect in 2014. The book tells the story of the video game’s Russian origins and rise to global popularity in the style of a Cold War-era political thriller. While conducting research for The Tetris Effect, Mr. Ackerman arranged several interviews with key players involved with Tetris’s history including Maya Rogers, Chief Executive Officer of the Tetris Company, and one of the defendants named in Mr. Ackerman’s lawsuit. In addition to discussing The Tetris Effect in these interviews, Mr. Ackerman also delivered a pre-publication copy of The Tetris Effect to the Tetris Company.

Mr. Ackerman claims that Ms. Rogers then used his bookas the basis for developing a screenplay that eventually became the Tetris film, without seeking or obtaining a license from Mr. Ackerman to do so.1 To stifle competition while developing the Tetris film, the Tetris Company also allegedly refused to license the Tetris name or other intellectual property to Mr. Ackerman or any third parties intending to adapt The Tetris Effect for film or television.

As evidence for his claims that the Tetris film infringes Mr. Ackerman’s copyright in The Tetris Effect, the complaint identifies 22 scenes from the film which Mr. Ackerman alleges are very similar to the overall tone, portrayal of characters, and events in The Tetris Effect. Mr. Ackerman is seeking compensatory and punitive damages equal to six percent in the aggregate of the Tetris film’s estimated $80 million production budget.

Why Is This Case Important?

At issue in Mr. Ackerman’s lawsuit is the extent to which the Copyright Act protects works of authorship which incorporate or are substantially composed of historical facts or events. Although copyright law does not protect facts or raw data, the selection and arrangement of facts may be protectable as a “compilation.”

Although both the Tetris film and The Tetris Effect are based on real-life events, Mr. Ackerman argues that the film adopts his book’s unique contextualization of the Tetris Company’s story as a geopolitical thriller, and that his “ingenuity to create a compelling narrative”2 through the arrangement of these real-life events is entitled to protection under copyright law.

The outcome of this case could have implications beyond the use of “compilations” of historical facts in film and television. With the prevalence of “web scraping”3 practices and the use of large bodies of training data in machine learning and artificial intelligence applications, a ruling in favor of Mr. Ackerman could provide a legal path for protection of creative arrangements or interpretations of historical events and other factual data, forming the basis for claims of copyright infringement for unauthorized reproduction, distribution, and exploitation of such information and materials or technologies based on such information.

[1] Film and television studios typically purchase an “option” from authors for books or other literary works which the studios are interested in adapting in future productions. An option grants the studio a limited right to develop the material, along with a right to purchase a full license to exploit an author’s manuscript in a resulting film or television series adaptation, should the studio choose to move forward with the project.

[2] Compl., Ackerman v. Pink, (S.D.N.Y. 2023) (No. 23 Civ. 06952).

[3] “Web scraping” refers to the practice of extracting data from websites using automated software and/or artificial intelligence. It is commonly used to aggregate large volumes of data and an important tool for developing machine learning platforms.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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