Pennsylvania author John L. Beiswenger announced a new lawsuit against Ubisoft over alleged similarities between the plot of his 2002 book, Link: A Novel, and the plot of Ubisoft’s popular 2007 video game, Assassin’s Creed.
In Beiswenger’s novel, the Link device is a machine whereby ancestral memories can be accessed, recalled, relived, and re-experienced by the user.
An excerpt of Link explains how the device works:
“If John Wilkes Booth fathered a child after he assassinated Lincoln, and we found a descendant alive today, we could place Booth at the scene and perhaps smell the gunpowder.”
“As far back as you want.”
More prominently, Beiswenger’s novel features a device called the Bio-synchronizer.
“George,” asked LaShauna, “what does your device do – in simple language?”
“Okay, in simple language, instead of one percept each time we trigger a cell, or a series of percepts in stroboscopic fashion when we trigger a pulse every so many seconds . . .”
“. . . we’ll experience a full memory in perfect synchronization with the brain,” finished Anna.
These plot points supposedly parallel the 2007 video game Assassin Creed‘s story, in which a group uses the Animus and Animus 2.0 technologies to relive and re-experience the memories of the user’s ancestor. These techologies provide fully visual chances for the individuals involved to experience these past memories.
Another important suggested parallel between the novel Link and Assassin’s Creed is the idea of memories being passed down from parent to child. This is an important plot point in Link:
“You’ve proven that children have the memories of their parents, and they know Search’s technology can get the children to recall them.”
In Assassin’s Creed, individuals relive past experiences through the Animus devices, which utilize one’s genetic DNA to find old memories.
Additionally, both the plots of Link and of Assassin’s Creed prominently feature their respective characters re-experiencing various historically accurate times in history through these memory devices.
Beisweinger could receive anywhere up to $900,000 in damages as well as complete refunding of legal fees by Ubisoft, depending on how the court rules the case.
In addition to the Ubisoft lawsuit, Beiswenger also launched a similar, related suit against GameTrailers in response to their alleged use of his copyrighted works in an exclusive video they aired on the storyline of Assassin’s Creed.
The Ubisoft Complaint is embedded below.
Analysis: I remember a little while ago, I was going through what I called a throw-away-novel phase, in which I was reading a lot of silly, light-hearted Barnes and Noble paperbacks for some lazy entertainment. One of my favorite novels that I read during this time was a Raymond Khoury book called The Last Templar. In the afterword of the book, Khoury lamented his fate: he had conceived of and started working on his story of several Templars hiding a secret about Christ in a giant historical conspiracy many years ago and was working very feverishly on making the novel, only to have the incredibly popular Da Vinci Code be released a few years prior with an almost hauntingly similar premise. Therefore, when Khoury hit press with The Last Templar, instead of marketing it as a highly original story with “stunning revelations” about the historical nature of Christ, literary critics such as Paul Allen instead went to print with praise like this:
“Fans of Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code who are searching for another outstanding historical thriller need look no further than Raymond Khoury’s spectacular debut novel[.]”
I bring this story up because it highlights an important point with this Ubisoft case: sometimes, weird coincidences can happen in the writing world. If you were Raymond Khoury, surely you couldn’t have been afraid that someone else was going to beat you to the punch with a book about Knights Templar hiding historical secrets about the actual nature of Jesus Christ in a giant conspiracy that spans throughout European history. What a ridiculous, out-there story! There’d be no way you’d have to worry about that one getting stolen.
Yet that’s what happened, and it wasn’t plagiarism. Dan Brown came up with a story that has a lot of eerie parallels and that’s that. Nothing else to it.
So is it possible that both Ubisoft and Beiswenger came up with the story independently? It’s very possible, and that’s why Beiswenger better have a crack legal team if he wants to do anything other than waste his time on this lawsuit. Take it from a pre-law major: it’s going to be a Herculean, most likely Sisyphean, task to try and prove that Ubisoft specifically took certain ideas from a particular book and implemented them into the game. All of the evidence is very circumstantial: in the court of law, coincidences don’t get convictions, and when some of your listed coincidences are “I used a lot of Biblical imagery and so did they,” you’re not going to get very far.
I’m not saying that Ubisoft didn’t steal the concept of viewing your ancestor’s memories. Maybe they did, maybe they didn’t; who knows. I’m just saying that it’s going to be incredibly hard for Beiswenger to prove that they did in court, and at the end of the day, Ubisoft is most likely going to get off scot-free.
And the GameTrailers lawsuit? That, in my opinion, was just gratuitous.