Update 8/11/23 4:50 p.m. ET: As spotted by Reuters, Activision Blizzard has dropped its counter-lawsuit against Anthony Fantano, the super popular music critic behind the well-known YouTube channel The Needle Drop.
In court documents filed on August 10, the company said it “dismisses this entire action,” which includes every claim made in the suit. Activision’s doing this with prejudice, meaning it can’t refile the lawsuit later if it wanted to.
Original story follows…
On July 24, Call of Duty maker Activision Blizzard filed a lawsuit in California alleging that YouTuber Anthony Fantano, a music critic who runs the immensely popular channel The Needle Drop, is misusing intellectual property law and “leveraging the popularity” of a widespread TikTok voice clip he created for financial gain. The company said that Fantano, widely known as “the internet’s busiest music nerd,” has embarked on a “scheme” to sue certain users of the clip unless they pay him “extortionate amounts of money,” with Activision Blizzard apparently being Fantano’s largest target.
At the center of the dispute is a widely used voice clip of Fantano saying “it’s enough slices!” The clip originates in a 2021 TikTok that features Fantano reacting to a pizza being cut into increasingly smaller slices. Fantano looks on appreciatively for a while but the slicing just doesn’t stop, prompting him to eventually scream the now-famous line.
The video garnered millions of views and spawned thousands of copycats, leading Activision Blizzard to create their own rendition of the meme in a now-deleted June 2023 TikTok promoting some Crash Bandicoot shoes. Apparently, Fantano wasn’t about it, alleging it created a “false endorsement” of the product without him actually being associated with it. He sent the company a cease-and-desist letter on June 27 demanding that Activision Blizzard stopped using the audio and made a six-figure settlement payment to him. If the company didn’t pay up, he would “initiate litigation.” Interestingly, though, Activision’s lawsuit alleges that Fantano himself opted to put the clip in TikTok’s “Commercial Sounds” library, specifically designating it as usable in advertisements.
“In reliance on TikTok’s explicit representation that the ‘Slices Audio’ was part of its ‘Commercial Sounds’ library— described as ‘sounds that are licensed for commercial use’—Activision paired that video with the ‘Slices Audio,’” the company wrote in the 33-page lawsuit. ‘Notwithstanding that thousands of TikTok videos containing the Slices Audio have been available on TikTok for years without complaint, Fantano suddenly decided that Activision’s video infringed his publicity rights and constituted a false endorsement.”
Activision is effectively arguing that Fantano is trying to game the law for his own gain, with the company’s lawyers writing, “Fantano has embarked on a scheme whereby he selectively threatens to sue certain users of the Slices Audio unless they pay him extortionate amounts of money for their alleged use.”
“This dispute is a textbook example of how intellectual property law can be misused by individuals to leverage unfair cash payments,” Activision’s lawyers wrote. “Fantano was very happy to receive the benefit of the public use of the Slices Video. It was only after he identified a financial opportunity—namely, receiving unjustified settlement payments—that he suddenly decided that his consent was limited. The law does not permit, and the court should not countenance, such overt gamesmanship.”
The company is seeking reimbursement of its legal expenses and a ruling declaring that Fantano cannot sue TikTok users for using the voice clip.
Richard Hoeg, a lawyer who specializes in digital and video game law, told Kotaku in an email that while he hasn’t seen all of the materials in the lawsuit, based on what he knows this far, the company has a decent case here.
“As described by Activision (and remembering theirs is only one side of the story), it would seem they have a good case,” Hoeg said. “The TikTok audio library appears to allow for general commercial use on TikTok, so anyone placing content in the library should be limited in their rights to challenge. That said, there still could be facts we don’t know like whether an unauthorized third party actually effected the sound’s inclusion or even whether it might have been automated.”
Kotaku reached out to Activision Blizzard and Fantano for comment.