Gizmodo editor-in-chief Daniel Ackerman has sued Apple and other parties over the 2023 Apple TV Plus film Tetris, alleging it rips off his 2016 book The Tetris Effect. Ackerman claims Apple, Tetris rightsholder the Tetris Company, the Tetris film’s producers, and screenwriter Noah Pink copied “the exact same feel, tone, approach, and scenes” from The Tetris Effect — particularly its framing of the game’s release as a “Cold War spy thriller.”
Initially reported by Reuters, Ackerman’s lawsuit outlines a yearslong correspondence with the Tetris Company as he wrote The Tetris Effect. He claims that the Tetris Company was aware of his work and threatened him with legal action for trying to pursue film and TV adaptations of his own book, only to draw heavily from his framing of the Tetris story. “The film liberally borrowed numerous specific sections and events of the book,” claims Ackerman.
Apple and the Tetris Company did not immediately respond to requests for comment from The Verge. But Ackerman’s case may be difficult given the fact that Tetris and The Tetris Effect both draw on real historical facts, which are not generally protected by copyright law. As a result, the suit relies heavily on arguing that Tetris copies the feel of The Tetris Effect. (He also argues that some potential inventions of the film — like a guide who turns out to be a secret KGB agent — are based on speculations in his narrative.)
“Ackerman’s book took a unique approach to writing about the real history of Tetris”
“Ackerman’s book took a unique approach to writing about the real history of Tetris, as it not only applied the historical record, but also layered his own original research and ingenuity to create a compelling narrative non-fiction book in the style of a Cold War spy thriller,” the suit says. “Mr. Ackerman’s literary masterpiece, unlike other articles and writings, dispelled of the emphasis on the actual gameplay and fans, and instead concentrated on the surrounding narrative, action sequences, and adversarial relationship between the players ... This was the identical approach Defendants adopted for the Tetris Film, without notable material distinction.”
Authors have sued studios for developing semi-historical films based on their works; Warner Bros. and New Line Cinema settled a lawsuit over horror film The Conjuring in 2017, for instance. But that involved paranormal events whose historical accuracy is, to put it mildly, highly disputed — putting it closer to the territory of potentially copyrightable fiction.
Ackerman says that he reached out after the Tetris trailer’s release and unsuccessfully requested Apple and the other defendants address legal issues before the film’s release. His suit alleges copyright infringement and unfair competition, among other offenses.