SAN FRANCISCO (CN) –      Amanda Lewis has sued Activision Blizzard and Blizzard Entertainment in Federal Court, alleging copyright infringement and misappropriation of her voice.  Game masters are customer service representatives in-game on World of Warcraft.  They help players who with grievers and technical problems in the game.   While working at Blizzard, Lewis says, she received an email requesting voices for “World of Warcraft” creatures.

She said she had previously developed a voice, on her own time and through her own creative efforts, which she thought would be appropriate for WoW and offered to demonstrate it.  Blizzard liked the voice and and an original song she created to give life and personality to creatures known as ‘baby murlocs’ in the game.  They’re friendly and appealing aquatic humanoid creatures in WoW, and are available as player-owned ‘pets’.  Ms. Lewis notes that providing creative content for WoW was not part of her duties as a customer service representative, and that she had not assigned any copyright in her music and vocal work to Blizzard.  California is a ‘work-made-for-hire’ state, however, meaning that if she produced creative work on the clock, under the direction of supervisors at the company, then the company owns it and may do whatever they want with it.  However, the fact that she created the voice during off hours may be the loophole she needs to win her case in court.  Blizzard may have assumed that she had done the voice there while on the job under direction, and used the material without checking its true origin.

Lewis says her voice and the baby murloc song have become an important part of “World of Warcraft, to the point that baby murlocs have been handed out at the annual Blizzard convention for gamers, and is making profits from sales of the plush toys in its online store. Her attorney asserts that her voice work contributed significantly to the value and the success of the baby murloc characters, and that they have become the de facto mascot of the billion dollar enterprise that is World of Warcraft.

Blizzard’s troubles don’t end there, however.  Just in the past week, they let go 600 employees, including about 10% of their programming staff – which for a game company is a serious sign of trouble.  The rest of the layoffs were from the animation and art departments, some middle management and office staff.  The mood at Blizzard is anything but relaxed, now that that’s over with, however.  People are still jumpy, wondering if it’s going to be enough or whether more layoffs are coming.

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