Hijacking Elvis Cole & Joe Pike Is a Crime, Claims Popular Mystery Author Robert Crais

Spring 2004 (Vol V, No. 1) Table of Contents

Mystery author Robert Crais filed suit against game show giant Activision in October in response to the apparent hijacking of his private eye series protagonists Elvis Cole and Joe Pike for a new video PlayStation game, True Crime: Streets of LA. Fans of Elvis Cole and his enigmatic sidekick immediately rallied round in support of Crais and their heroes, introduced in The Monkey’s Raincoat (1987).

What’s most interesting in the case is what impact it may have on other authors, particularly those in the crime and sci-fi categories. If Activision wins, will this mean game creators can steal characters and ideas from novels with impunity? The film and TV industries traditionally have paid good money for rights to use authors’ works, never mind that the final product often bears little resemblance to the written version.

“Since news [of the suit] broke, we have received literally hundreds of posts and emails,” reported the webmaster for Crais’ website, robertcrais.com “…To those of you who sent letters of support and good wishes, we extend our deepest thanks and gratitude.”

Crais has long been known for his careful stewardship of the Elvis and Joe characters, the whole Cole series, in fact. Despite lucrative film and TV offers, he has steadfastly refused to sell rights to his Cole novels or their main characters. He pointed this out in the following statement on his suit against Activision.

”A video game titled True Crime: Streets Of LA was recently brought to my attention. The creators of this game have admitted it was patterned after my Elvis Cole/Joe Pike novels. Those of you long familiar with my work know that I guard Elvis and Joe closely. You know that I have turned down well over thirty offers to sell the film and television rights to these characters and books. They are not for sale. They may not be used without my permission.

”To quote a character from The Monkey’s Raincoat, where it all began: ‘He accepts the duty of protecting what is his.’

”To that end, I have engaged Bruce Van Dalsem and Henry Gradstein of Gradstein, Luskin & Van Dalsem to help in the effort. Requests from journalists are forwarded to them. Legally, I can make no comment upon the case so long as we have a pending action. I look forward to sharing my views with the jury.”

Crais ended his comments with a bow to the fans who registered support in e-mails and on his website Forum:

”Thanks for your good wishes and support.”

Here is how Activision describes the game.

“The streets of Los Angeles are being overrun with criminal scum and it’s going to take a renegade ex-cop like you to clean them out for good. As Nick Kang, your brutal reputation and lethal skills have landed you a nasty job: heading up an undercover task force to stop the Chinese and Russian gangs from turning the City of Angels into their hellish playground. Across hundreds of square miles of L.A., you’ve got to drive, fight and blast your way through a branching storyline comprised of a massive array of unpredictable missions, using stealth techniques, martial arts moves, and an ask-questions-later arsenal. Looks like the hardcore streets of L.A. just met their match.”

Here is the comment of a journalist who covers the video game beat.

True Crime taken to true court L.A. crime author Robert Crais sues Activision over Nick Kang character

Activision saw its drive to publish True Crime: The Streets of LA hit a pothole today as crime author Robert Crais reportedly announced that he is taking legal action to stop the game’s November 4 release.

”Crais filed suit in Los Angeles US District Court and is currently seeking an injunction to prevent Activision from shipping the game. The suit also seeks undisclosed monetary damages and “destruction of all infringing works.”

What’s Crais’ beef? The writer claims that Nick Kang, the grizzled ex-cop antihero of True Crime, is a rip-off of Elvis Cole, the grizzled ex-cop antihero of nine Crais novels, including L.A. Requiem and Free Fall.

“‘True Crime is substantially similar to the Elvis Cole novels,’ states the suit, which accuses Activision of copying “protectable expressions.” (Those who’ve read Crais’ novels and seen footage of True Crime will notice Kang and Cole also share an affinity for mirrored sunglasses and beating criminals senseless.)

“E-mails to Crais were not returned and Activision representatives wouldn’t comment on the matter except to say it expected the game to ship as scheduled.

“Developed by Luxoflux, True Crime LA is one of Activision’s most heavily promoted Q4 releases. The title’s combination of Grand Theft Auto-like shooting and driving with martial arts-influenced hand-to-hand combat has generated significant interest among gamers.” – by Tor Thorsen, GameSpot [POSTED: 10/17/03 11:10 AM

(Actually, ol’ Tor doesn’t seem all that familiar with the Crais mysteries. It’s Joe Pike who wears mirrored sunglasses and is the more physical one of the partners.)

Does Crais have a legitimate beef in this case? Not having seen the game yet, I can’t speculate. The fact that people who have seen it and spotted the parallels does suggest that there is at least some smoke hovering over the situation. Is there fire there, too?

Stay tuned; we’ll update you on this suit next issue.


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