In the world of political card games, things are getting quite gray.
The intended fun and laughs have been displaced by intellectual property disputes and claims for punitive damages, creating an adversarial atmosphere that could be mistaken for the very place being satirized in between scuffles: Washington, D.C.
That’s the situation Trumbull-based SCS Direct Inc. found itself in last week, when it filed a lawsuit against Cards Against Humanity LLC under Connecticut’s Unfair Trade Practices Act, which highlighted a disagreement over the use of black-and-white playing cards in SCS’s recently produced Humanity Hates Trump game.
“We were surprised they contacted us originally and told us, ‘We don’t like what you’re doing,’ but we responded to them immediately and said we didn’t want to step on any toes, so we tweaked the layout and the configuration of our cards to fit their request and to avoid any of the similarities they were complaining about,” said Howard Greenspan, SCS Direct’s president and owner, about his initial dialogue with the founders of the Chicago-based card game.
“They then came back and told us to remove or change the color of our cards — to have them not be black-and-white cards — and we said no,” he said. “Two days after that conversation, they told Kickstarter, which was the home of our marketing campaign, that we had infringed on their rights.
“Their claim is that they own the rights to black-and-white cards,” Greenspan told The Times Saturday morning, in astonishment. “And because of that, our reputation is being compromised.”
Cards Against Humanity’s complaint was enough to have the Kickstarter campaign for Humanity Hates Trump removed, resulting in $10,000 lost revenue from the campaign.
The lawsuit, which SCS Direct filed in Bridgeport, seeks injunctive relief as Greenspan and his company forge ahead with their plans to begin selling the satirical card game to users across the country on Friday, May 20.
“Kickstarter doesn’t want to get involved. If someone is claiming an intellectual property dispute, then they they don’t want to be the lawyer in between the two parties,” he explained. “They want us to resolve it, and now the only way for us to do that is in court.
“If the court deems us too similar to their product, then we’ll have to change it,” he said. “But we know they don’t have the rights to black-and-white cards and they know they don’t have those rights, so we’re surprised it’s gotten to this point really.
“They decided to do battle with us thinking we wouldn’t complain and that we’d back down because we’re little, but that’s where they’re wrong,” Greenspan told The Times
Beanie Babies, Sipping Stones, and Donald Trump
Beyond the legal rights of the color spectrum, there’s a reason why Greenspan is holding firm with Humanity Hates Trump.
The Fairfield resident and Fairfield Warde High School graduate has made a career buying and selling consumer products.
He began selling sports collectibles, including trading cards and other merchandise, right around the time of the dot-com bubble. As that business evolved to meet the needs of online consumers, Greenspan got involved with a company that was responsible for creating the tag protection devices on Beanie Babies that would help propel the product into the mainstream in the late 1990s.
“It was a short, insignificant fad,” he joked. “But we were able to help keep them safe from harm, and I learned a lot through that experience.”
From there, he started his own company — SCS Direct — that makes a variety of household products, ranging from Sipping Stones to the Deluxe Dual Electric Chocolate Melting Pot. Greenspan has also been involved in the creation of several health care products that targeted mothers and their children.
“We produce the gamut of different things,” he said. “But we never made a card game, until now.”
Humanity Hates Trump was born through newspaper headlines and endless TV news coverage. Greenspan said the entire country’s obsession with Donald Trump became obvious to him earlier this year, and the idea quickly became unavoidable.
“We couldn’t believe he kept gaining so much steam,” he said. “Then one day I woke and said to myself, ‘Oh, my God, humanity really does hate Donald Trump.’ When you wake up with an idea like that, you can’t really ignore it.”
Time to kickstart
The main goal of Humanity Hates Trump is to make people laugh about the things Donald Trump says, not bash the controversial Republican candidate, Greenspan insists.
He said about 50 employees in his office began work on the product in March, selecting the best cards possible based on statements Trump has made on the campaign trail over the last couple of months.
“Sometimes laughing is the best way to cope with something,” he said. “Our intention was clear from day one: Make a game that’s fun to play and that makes people smile.”
The game’s base set comes with 200 white cards, 50 black cards, and two “Ultimate Trump Cards” that a player may use to automatically win a given round.
A round begins when one player asks a fill-in-the-blank question from one of the black cards and the other players respond with a white card with what they think will be the most comical answer.
In a move to gain pre-launch recognition with both consumers and media, a Humanity Hates Trump Kickstarter campaign was posted in mid-March, but that drew the ire of Cards Against Humanity (CAH) founders.
As of press time Wednesday, SCS Direct is blocked from fulfilling pre-launch product sales to its 200-plus Kickstarter campaign backers — the aspect that upsets Greenspan the most about the situation.
“I am shocked that a large, successful company such as Cards Against Humanity would be threatened by a small Kickstarter campaign such as ours,” he said in a press release last week.
“All of customers who go in early are now in limbo, and we can’t fulfil their orders until this is resolved,” he told The Times.
Publicity for the big dog
Greenspan told The Times Saturday that he believed the strategy to complain to Kickstarter was merely a publicity stunt.
“Cards Against Humanity has been known for making pranks in the past to get into the headlines, and we think this is another way for them to do that, by claiming false rights and attaching their name next to our product for a few minutes,” he said. “I think they saw we were the No. 1 crowd-funded Kickstarter in the country and they saw a good opportunity to jump on something that’s been pretty popular with the media and with users, without getting any kickback from us.”
However, that’s where they estimated incorrectly, according to the Fairfield County native.
CAH’s complaint to Kickstarter took down SCS’s campaign just two days before it was set to end.
Despite losing out on potentially another $10,000 more from pre-order purchases in the final two days, Greenspan said, the campaign had raised 10 times its original goal, but because the campaign was removed, the money cannot be accessed.
“I don’t think they should be allowed to hide behind a veil and do whatever they want,” he said.
“Our product will still sell because it’s fun and good-natured, but what’s important here is that they didn’t want any other games out there — or at least they’re pretending that they don’t like us as competition, and that stunt has cost us some money in the short term and good faith from some of customers in the long term,” he said. “The damages go beyond additional loss of revenue and future revenue; they attacked our reputation, and I think that’s because they feel threatened.”
Blue and red?
In the court documents, Greenspan cited more than a dozen unrelated card games that use black-and-white cards, many of which were released before and after CAH, such as We Didn’t Play This and Super Fight.
“Claiming rights to the colors black and white is absurd,” he said in the release. “It’s evident they view Humanity Hates Trump as competition, and the fact that they caused Kickstarter to pull our campaign is clearly an unfair trade practice.”
When The Times asked why the product didn’t just switch to blue and red cards — denominating the country’s Democratic and Republican parties, the card game creator said he considered making such a switch but decided to stick with the original concept.
“There a lot of games out there that use the black-and-white model and we want fans of this particular genre to use this set and feel comfortable and familiar,” he explained, citing Guards Against Insanity and Crabs Adjust Humidity.
“Black and white also shows it’s an adult game, something that might not be suitable for children,” he added.
Most of all, though, he didn’t want to back down to Cards Against Humanity’s overreaching demands.
“We could have done another color,” Greenspan told The Times. “But we couldn’t let Cards Against Humanity claim two colors as their own.”
Touted by CrowdfundInsider.com as the most successful of all Trump-related Kickstarter campaigns, Humanity Hates Trump continues to draw a lot of buzz surrounding its release in mid-May.
Popularity, not color, is the most common similarity between the two decks of cards, Greenspan said.
“The world knows Cards Against Humanity — it’s been outselling every game on Amazon for years; it’s hard not to know it,” he admitted. “It’s a fun game and I have nothing against it.
“That’s why I wanted us to co-exist and not step on each other’s toes,” he added. “I think fans of both games can use cards from each set when playing one or the other, and that can be a really cool experience.”
Greenspan’s game, which is in no way endorsed by or affiliated with Donald J. Trump himself, is played similarly to Apples to Apples and Cards Against Humanity, where each player is dealt seven white cards, each including a word or phrase.
However, the two Ultimate Trump Cards — with their “argument-winning powers” outside the game in real life — is the big difference between the two brands.
“Trump trumps everything,” Greenspan said. “We’re going to have a similar card with our expansion pack, Humanity Hates Hillary, which is coming out soon.”