Rock band No Doubt has filed a real-world lawsuit over its virtual role in the just-released Band Hero edition of the Guitar Hero video game series, contending that the game has "transformed No Doubt band members into a virtual karaoke circus act," singing dozens of songs the group neither wrote, popularized nor approved for use in the game.
In a suit filed Wednesday in Los Angeles County Superior Court, the band alleges that Santa Monica-based Activision Publishing Inc., the maker of the game, far exceeded the contractually approved use of likenesses, or avatars, of band members Gwen Stefani, Tony Kanal, Tom Dumont and Adrian Young.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday, November 06, 2009 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 National Desk 2 inches; 94 words Type of Material: Correction
No Doubt lawsuit: An article in Business on Thursday about rock group No Doubt's lawsuit over its use in the video game Band Hero said Activision Publishing Inc., the game's maker, had not seen the complaint and therefore had no comment. That article was an early version; Activision had responded by Wednesday afternoon, and the company's statement was published on the Pop & Hiss blog at latimes.com. Activision said that the suit was "without merit" and that the company was "exploring its own legal options with respect to No Doubt's obligations under the agreement."
An Activision spokesman said the company had not seen the complaint and therefore had no comment.
"The band [members] are bitterly disappointed that their name and likeness was taken and used without their permission," band manager Jim Guerinot said. "They agreed to play three No Doubt songs as a band. . . . Activision then went and put them in 62 other songs and broke the band up [and] never even asked."
The suit also charges that the game allows users to manipulate No Doubt characters to sing songs popularized by other pop music acts. No Doubt's contract with Activision allowed the company to use the band's music and likenesses in no more than three of the band's own songs, the suit says. The game, which was released Tuesday, puts the group members' images, collectively and individually, into more than 60 songs, "many of which include lyrics, contained in iconic songs, which are not appropriate for No Doubt and have not been and would not have been chosen by No Doubt for recordings or public performances."
Specifically, the suit notes that through the game's Character Manipulation Feature, Stefani's image can be induced to sing the Rolling Stones' "Honky Tonk Women."
"While No Doubt are avid fans of the Rolling Stones and even have performed in concerts with the Rolling Stones," the complaint says, "the Character Manipulation Feature results in an unauthorized performance by the Gwen Stefani avatar in a male voice boasting about having sex with prostitutes."
The suit says Activision executives withheld disclosure of the character-manipulation feature and refused the band's request to remove or disable it in conjunction with the No Doubt avatars after the band learned how they were being used. The complaint says Activision officials told the band that doing so would be "too expensive."
The suit asks for unspecified actual and punitive damages, a temporary restraining order, a preliminary injunction and a permanent injunction against distribution of the game and for Activision to recall existing copies.
In September, after Nirvana leader Kurt Cobain's likeness was used in Guitar Hero 5, his widow, Courtney Love, and former bandmates Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic complained that the game placed him in front of other bands singing their hits. In that instance, Activision said the company had received written permission from Love to use Cobain's likeness as a fully playable character. She subsequently Twittered that she had "never signed [off] on the avatar."