Donkey Kong was one of Nintendo’s most famous video game series, chronicling the adventures of the title character Donkey Kong. The game quickly became a bestseller, strengthening Nintendo’s standing as an industry leader. The gigantic ape is immediately recognisable for most video game enthusiasts. In fact, the character of Donkey Kong has proved so popular that he continues to star in a number of Nintendo’s gaming franchises (including Mario and Super Smash Bros), contributing to its designer’s sales worldwide.
Following the release of the first Donkey Kong game in 1981, American film studio Universal Pictures filed a lawsuit against Nintendo. They argued that Donkey Kong’s characters and plot were too similar to their 1976 film King Kong (which also famously features a giant gorilla-like creature). Arguing that the two could become confused, Universal claimed that the video game was a serious trademark infringement on their own motion picture.
A United States district court ruled that Universal did not own the rights to King Kong and awarded Nintendo $1.8 million in damages (a significant amount of money for the time). This is partially due to the fact that in the 1970s Universal successfully defended themselves against a lawsuit filed by RKO Pictures (who had released their own King Kong film in 1933) by proving that the story was already in the public domain (i.e. not covered by copyright).
There have been many more legal challenges involving video games since then, including the current disagreement over the popular games Fortnite and PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds. Can you think of any other video games that have taken inspiration from other sources which might be in violation of copyright law?