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Thoughts on CYOA trademark

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  • Thoughts on CYOA trademark

    It was brought up on a recent thread that the late Ray Montgomery bullied me into changing my domain name many years ago. The company behind the CYOA books has been actively going after many entities.

    The most recent that stood out to me was their lawsuit against Netflix.

    First, has anyone tried the interactive video on Netflix? The one I saw was Bear Grylls survival and it was pretty neat.

    Second, what are your thoughts on ChooseCo’s rights to the concept of interactive fiction at this point?

    I would argue that the interactive survival video isn’t exactly interactive fiction; more instructional. Generally speaking, they can have their CYOA name but they can’t reserve the rights to every quiz or game with choices.

    I told Ray back when, that if he was smart, he would have seen a lucrative partnership between my website and his books. At the very least, we could have held a contest and winners could have been published.

  • #2
    • I don’t really have an access to Netflix since it’s not available in my country so no. But I checked it out on YouTube anyways.

    • You can’t own branching stories. Text adventures and Choose Your Own Adventure games have existed far back before CYOA even exists. The first one is known for Colossal Cave Adventure in 1976. There’s no point in suing Netflix because there are a million more CYOA games and books that’s not made by CYOA themselves before they are even born. If you can own branching stories then someone can own the fantasy genre. Someone can own and sue you for making platformer games. Someone in the 2700-2500 BC can sue you for making a book.

    I personally believe lawsuits like these are rather selfish. Just because you’re a trademarked company that doesn’t mean you own everything similar to the products you made. I’ve seen many small artists and creators do such things too.

    You can sue someone for stealing your originally made content but you can’t sue someone for using a trope in their creations.


    • #3
      It reminds me of Apple, going after anything with a lower-case "i" in front of it. Or Youtube Let's-Players getting shut down because the games they play use copyrighted music, or even big pharma patent lawsuits, in a way: any part of this long, glorious tradition where companies go after The Little Guy for doing something that is quite obviously legal and acceptable. Of course, the person being sued can't afford the legal costs of a defense, so mostly they give up.

      It's been long enough that I forget some of the details behind Ray's complaint against this site. It related to the site name, which is the same complaint they have about Bandersnatch (a movie I keep meaning to watch, but never get around to. Interactive Netflix sounds like a lot of fun, potentially, but I haven't seen how it's been implemented yet). Ray's series was literally named "Choose Your Own Adventure." It belongs in the genre of interactive fiction (maybe there's another word for what that is, too, something like "branching plot" that excludes the interactive element?). At a glance, the lawsuits aren't going after the interactive storytelling itself. They are trying to protect the "Choose Your Own Adventure" name and the related brand. The problem arises because CYOA was (and still is) the best-known example of interactive fiction, so much so that - like people in a lot of places that say "bring me a Coke" or "bring me a Pepsi" when they mean "bring me a soda" - CYOA has come to be a generic term that means "interactive fiction." That fact that it IS sort of a generic now might be a defense against this sort of thing, argued by the right person in front of the right judge. They probably phrased it that way in the movie because more people will know, instantly, that you mean "branching story" when you say "CYOA" than if you said "interactive fiction."

      I understand wanting to protect the name and integrity of the series (although I'm out of touch with children's literature; do they still publish under that title? In the last decade, anything?). Chooseco has no right to the concept or implementation of interactive fiction. When someone uses the name - "Well, this violent murder novel is basically a Choose Your Own Adventure" - unless the phrase is ruled generic, they DO have a right to get involved. I might not like it, but legally, that person IS saying that CYOA publishes this dark, violent stuff. They have a point, and I even sort of understand it there (kids' parents stop buying the books, assuming any are still on shelves somewhere). Call it a soda, not a Coke. It's stupid in some ways, but they currently have legal standing in that narrow sense - to the phrase "CYOA" - and there's some point to that.

      Do I think it's a smart idea for them to try to shut these references down? Hell no. CYOA (...err, "interactive fiction") is nowhere near the center of public consciousness. For a number of reasons, there's not a ton of it out there, and it's not excessively popular. There's huge potential for anyone using that format if some of those works start getting a lot of sales and publicity; anyone working in the genre definitely benefits from the buzz generated by any success (whether it's a three-year-old's bedtime story or a reenactment of Dahmer). Not that I'm suggesting you cross those particular wires. I certainly don't think Bandersnatch did $25 million in damage to the CYOA brand, that's ridiculous.

      CYOA is comparatively rare because there's a lot of additional time and effort involved, a lot of duplication of text for every branch. Bandersnatch is probably more like a proof-of-concept than a burgeoning new genre for Netflix, though I hope we see more like it. Interactive fiction has started to take off in videogames (Life is Strange is a great example). In every game I've seen, the choices FEEL meaningful - great effort is put toward that effect - but if you replay a few times, you realize that the game is actually quite linear. There are almost no meaningful branchings, and those that do exist tend to be close to the end. The choices mostly result in some different dialogue, so that all the characters end up in the same place, but the relationships, the meanings behind things, how you feel about all of it - perspective - is altered. That duplication of effort becomes very, very expensive when you're shooting a movie or making a game. Even with those caveats, it's definitely taken off as a game genre. It's been awhile since I saw something interactive in print, though (again, I'm not sure whether that's because interactive print fiction usually markets to kids. Even when I was a kid, I mostly found them in used bookstores. Is there any in the kids' section these days?). Publishing in print is riskier in general now; interactive print fiction probably more so.

      I think you're right that Ray missed an opportunity by suing you instead of working with you (like Chrono Resurrection, bonus points if you get the reference). I'm actually surprised Chooseco didn't try to enter the internet age at all (or did they, and I just missed it?). To do that, though, he would have to give up a lot of control, and - you see this all over the place - even when it's to their great benefit to do so, even when there's no downside, most people and especially most companies (or at least their lawyers) don't want to give up that right. I would've loved to see a joint site with pooled resources promoting a renewed series of CYOA novels with the IS write-your-own-adventure model, and some contests with prizes and prestige here and there (get your CYOA published!). That sounds awesome, doesn't it? For some reason, that kind of thing just doesn't happen.
      Last edited by Locke; 06-27-2014 at 12:16 AM.


      • #4
        I don't associate "Choose Your Own Adventure" with a brand... It's more of an entire genre of entertainment. It's like if Telltale Games sued everyone that made episodic adventure games.


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