Electronic Arts Asks Judge to Dismiss Zynga Hiring Claims

Electronic Arts Inc., the second-biggest U.S. video-game publisher, asked a federal judge to dismiss a claim by Zynga Inc. that its copyright infringement lawsuit violates a year-old agreement between the companies.

Electronic Arts filed suit in San Francisco in August, claiming Zynga’s “The Ville” infringes copyrights for “The Sims Social,” an Electronic Arts game that runs on Facebook Inc.’s social network. Electronic Arts said in its complaint that senior executives who left for Zynga had details about “The Sims Social” strategy and development.

Zynga, the biggest developer of games played on Facebook, countersued last month, seeking to bar Electronic Arts from threatening litigation or interfering with its hiring. It called the copyright claims meritless and said Electronic Arts’ suit breached the terms of last year’s settlement.

According to today’s filing by Redwood City, California-based Electronic Arts, the companies arrived at a “confidential settlement” on Sept. 21, 2011, in which Electronic Arts released claims related to Zynga’s recruitment of current or former Electronic Arts employees in exchange for San Francisco-based Zynga’s agreement to not solicit other employees.

Dani Dudeck, a spokeswoman for Zynga, didn’t immediately return a call seeking comment on today’s filing.

September 2011

The settlement only covered claims through September 2011 and the more recent complaint brings copyright claims that fall “far outside” the 2011 agreement, Electronic Arts said today.

Zynga also claimed in its countersuit that Electronic Arts Chief Executive Officer John Riccitiello instructed company lawyers to get an agreement from Zynga prohibiting future hiring of Electronic Arts employees as part of an “anticompetitive and unlawful scheme” that violates California law.

The “litigation privilege” prohibits statements made in connection with legal actions from being used as grounds for a lawsuit, Electronic Arts argued.

“Alleged threats to sue Zynga in connection with its solicitation, recruitment and hiring of Electronic Arts employees were absolutely privileged,” according to the filing.

The case is Electronic Arts v. Zynga, 12-4099, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California (San Francisco).

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