The maker of an unofficial Boston transit map claims that Naughty Dog used it in The Last Of Us without his permission.
The Last Of Us came under fire yesterday when actress Ellen Page accused it of using her likeness for one of its main characters without her permission. There's a definite similarity (although as one Twitter wit noted, it's unlikely that Page holds a "property-like title to being a generic 4'9" brunette") and while Naughty Dog's claim that it was a "complete coincidence" that Ellie's appearance was changed to be less Page-like shortly after she signed up for Beyond Two Souls is a little dodgy, the studio also made a point of noting that the role was actually filled by a completely different actor, Ashley Johnson.
But the game is also facing a somewhat less-high-profile claim of bad behavior from Cameron Booth, a graphic designer who created and posted a redesigned "Boston MBTA Map" back in 2012 in response to what he felt were shortcomings in the real thing. I don't really get the whole idea of redesigning mass transit maps as a hobby but it's apparently pretty good as these things go and he's actually received several very positive comments about it on his blog.
Somehow, that map ended up in The Last Of Us without his knowledge or permission, a fact brought to Booth's attention on Twitter a few days ago that left him "fucking furious," as he put it on the Transit Maps tumblr.
"For a software developer - especially a big developer working on a blockbuster title like this - to casually appropriate someone else's work and incorporate it into their game without any discussion with the owner of that work is completely unacceptable. (Not to mention hugely ironic, as the software industry is always complaining about piracy of their work)," he wrote.
"Naughty Dog seems to have known that they couldn't use the official map without paying a hefty license fee, so it looks like they just went on the internet and found another one. Cos, you know, images on the internet are free for anyone to use, right? Not," he continued. "To be clear: at no point have Naughty Dog contacted me about using my intellectual property (this visual representation of the Boston rapid transit network) in their product. To be even more clear: if you want to use my work commercially, payment before usage is required. If you're making money from your product, then you can pay me for my work as well."
Booth said he's attempted to contact Naughty Dog to learn where they found the image, how it ended up in the game and how he'll be compensated for his work, but in a recent Twitter update he revealed that he's not yet received any response. "I started on Twitter, moved on to their corporate email, next step will be an actual, physical letter," he wrote.
A substantial number of comments on the Tumblr post have criticized Booth's response, suggesting that he has no right to claim credit for a slightly-modified copy of the official MBTA map, but Booth said his map is original work and that this is a very clear case of unethical behavior. "What Naughty Dog has done is not ethical, or good industry practice. I have people at my work who come to me all the time saying, 'I found this picture on the Internet we can use.' My answer is always a solid, 'Unless you can prove to me that we have the rights to use that image, then legally, we can't use it'," he wrote. "That's what someone at Naughty Dog should have said, but for some reason, they didn't. Regardless of whether you think my work is original or not (which it legally is), it was not Naughty Dog's to use. "
Naughty Dog has yet to comment on the complaint.
UPDATE: Naughty Dog still hasn't publicly commented but the situation appears to be headed to a happy ending, as Booth updated his blog post yesterday to say that he'd had a "very constructive conversation" with the studio on the telephone.
"Can't say more at the moment, but it seems as if matters will be resolved to everyone's satisfaction shortly," he wrote. "I can say that they do acknowledge their error in using my map and were very apologetic for it. I likewise apologized for my initial vitriolic post. A lot of mutual respect for each other's creative work."
We'll update again if and when Booth reveals the details of his agreement with Naughty Dog but for now it's just nice to see everyone trying to work this out like adults. If only all such conflicts could be handled that way.