In a digital world, where celebrities’ images and recordings are easily manipulated, distorted, and distributed, it is refreshing to see musical group No Doubt take control of its representations.

No Doubt filed a lawsuit against Activision, the publishers of the popular Band Hero video game, Wednesday, November 4. No Doubt seeks an injunction and damages for fraudulent inducement and breach of contract.

In a statement, the band members claimed that it “agreed to place avatars containing their name and likeness performing three No Doubt songs in the upcoming Band Hero.” The band was “mortified” to discover that the avatars could be made to perform over 60 additional songs by other musicians, in what has been called “a virtual karaoke circus act.”

The band members were particularly outraged that their avatars could be made to sing gender-inappropriate songs. For example, the game allows “an unauthorized performance by the Stefani avatar in a male voice boasting about having sex with prostitutes” (the Rolling Stones’ “Honky Tonk Woman”). Activision would have been wise to remember that Stefani is “just a girl in the world.”

Upon discovering the capabilities of its Band Hero avatars, No Doubt approached Activision executives about its concerns. The band alleges in the complaint that the company refused to “correct its actions” because it would be “too expensive” and would “jeopardize their revenue.”

Activision vaguely maintains that the avatars are within its contractual rights. In a statement released last week, it claims:

Activision has a written agreement to use No Doubt in Band Hero–an agreement signed by No Doubt after extensive negotiations with its representatives, who collectively have decades of experience in the entertainment industry. Pursuant to that agreement, Activision worked with No Doubt and the band’s management in developing Band Hero. As a result, Activision believes it is within its legal rights with respect to the use and portrayal of the band members in the game.

Activision further contends that it is exploring its own legal options with respect to No Doubt’s obligation under that contract.

This suit is not the first time the music community has criticized the Band Hero avatars. Fans and musicians alike were outraged by the capabilities of Kurt Cobain’s Guitar Hero avatar. Fellow Nirvana bandmates Krist Novoselic and Dave Grohl publicly stated:

[They were] dismayed and very disappointed in the way a facsimile of Kurt is used in the Guitar Hero game. . . . It’s hard to watch an image of Kurt pantomiming other artists’ music alongside cartoon characters. Kurt Cobain wrote songs that hold a lot of meaning to people all over the world. We feel he deserves better.

Fans were particularly offended that Cobain’s avatar could perform Bon Jovi’s “You Give Love a Bad Name,” an 80s rock anthem that does not exactly jive with Cobain’s iconic grunge rock persona. Activision maintains that the deceased Cobain’s wife, Courtney Love, approved the avatar, which is perhaps why no lawsuit was filed on Cobain’s behalf.

— Anne Goodwyn

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