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Legal Question

  • I know that some of you develop games for profit, so I was wondering. If I want to sell my game, do I have to make sure that there are no more like it that are copyrighted? I mean, do you have to have a completely original idea, or can I publish any game that I want?

  • Firstly we'll quickly deal with a common misconception -- it doesn't matter if you're releasing your games for profit or for free -- Intellectual Property rights (that is, copyright and trademarks) still apply either way, and if you're infringing upon someone else's rights you may receive a cease & desist notice or be sued either way.

    That being dealt with, as I briefly touched on above the laws you're dealing with fall under "intellectual property protection", and the ones that concern you are:

    • Trademark: deals with distinctive names and/or markings used in trade. Examples include the name "Microsoft", and the Nike "Swoosh" (tick shape).
    • Copyright: protects the expressive form of an idea. Examples being a book, or a piece of artwork.

    Patent law can occasionally apply, but isn't something you're likely to have to concern yourself with. A patent protects a process by which something is achieved.

    So, you can't use someone else's trademarks without their permission. In video-games this will usually mean the names of existing games (as well as movies, books, etc.!), major characters (you can use the common name "Tom", but you can't use the specific name "Lara Croft"), and logos. Don't use any of these things. Trademarks also only apply to the market in which you are trading -- there is an "Apple" computer company AND an "Apple" music label for example.

    You also can't use someone else's copyrighted material without their permission. This means you can't use the dialogue, instructional text, sound effects, graphics, etc. from an existing product, and also applies to "derivative works", meaning that you shouldn't base your own work on an existing piece of work; i.e. if you create your own version of Mario or Sonic, it is a derivative work and you're still using copyrighted material.

    All that being said, you can't generally apply any of the above protections to game-play, so as long as you create (or legally obtain) all your own artwork, sounds, text, etc. and don't use any trademarked names or logos you're able to make a game that is played in the same way as another. For example, you can make a "falling block game", but you can not make "Tetris".

    One last quick note, I'll briefly mention "Fair Use", which gets brought up almost every time intellectual property is discussed. Fair Use is an exception to copyright laws which can apply in certain situations, and allows you to use copyrighted material without permission. Examples might include quoting a copyrighted piece of text, or making a parody version of a song. The problem however is that there are no strict rules or limits on what exactly constitutes fair use -- there's no percentage of a work or amount of words (I recall an example where someone was sued for using just 6 words from a speech) that are definitely safe to use, and only a judge can decide if fair use applies in any particular situation -- don't fall for the trap of assuming fair use will definitely protect you.

    To summarise, you should be fine as long as you check that the names and titles you want to use aren't already in use, and as long as you aren't using anyone else's artwork, sound effects, help text, dialogue, etc.

    ...and finally, I am not a lawyer, and if you're concerned about this and want to be absolutely sure you should consult with one.

    Does that help? <img src="smileys/smiley1.gif" border="0" align="middle" />

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  • thanks jbadams, nice info there

    was wondering some things myself and your post answered it

  • Thank you so much! Wow, you really posted a nice comment and I really appreciate your help. Thank you so much.

  • Hmm... I was thinking of doing a game that I guess I'll have to kill... Thanks for potentially saving my life!

    Is Johnny Thunder taken?

  • I was going to make a game where Mario gets blasted through a wall, courtesy of Bowser. He lands in a costume store, walks out with a hedgehog suit on backwards (and with roller skates) , runs into a wall coated in blue wet pain, and comes out looking like Sonic. Eggman mistakes Mario for Sonic, kidnaps Peach from out of Bowser's hands thinking she's Amy on stilts or something, and HyperSonicMario to the Rescue!!!

    But scratch that. It'll have to be somebody else. Aww man, that would've made a great game! And a comic book!

  • It's only illegal if you get caught   <img src="smileys/smiley4.gif" border="0" align="middle" />

  • Here's something commonly heard in game business. Nothing is protecting an idea, only the way you make it(invention). For example you can make Mario style clones as long as you don't use any trademarks, such as names or characters or the code.

  • That was really helpful to know, this post should be included in a FAQ.

  • It's only illegal if you get caught   <img src="smileys/smiley4.gif" border="0" align="middle">

    Ain't it? <img src="smileys/smiley36.gif" border="0" align="middle">

    I've seen many (MANY) free a game that uses so called copyrighted material and nothing ever happened. Truth is, if the owners of the material feel like yer game it's a threat, they will ask you to stop, just like crap company Square Enix got scared of

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    and shut it down. If you are going to do something like this and FREE, keep it secret until it's complete and keep the testing around to a trusted circle of people. Once it's complete, release it in all it's glory and give the finger to crap corps. like SE. Just hide where it really came from. <img src="smileys/smiley17.gif" border="0" align="middle">

    Not ALL companies care though, believe it or not, some cool companies are actually left.

  • Thanks for it. Nice summary.

  • > It's only illegal if you get caught   <img src="smileys/smiley4.gif" border="0" align="middle">

    Ain't it? <img src="smileys/smiley36.gif" border="0" align="middle">

    I've seen many (MANY) free a game that uses so called copyrighted material and nothing ever happened. Truth is, if the owners of the material feel like yer game it's a threat, they will ask you to stop, just like crap company Square Enix got scared of

    Subscribe to Construct videos now

    and shut it down. If you are going to do something like this and FREE, keep it secret until it's complete and keep the testing around to a trusted circle of people. Once it's complete, release it in all it's glory and give the finger to crap corps. like SE. Just hide where it really came from. <img src="smileys/smiley17.gif" border="0" align="middle">

    Not ALL companies care though, believe it or not, some cool companies are actually left.

    I dont think this is a very fair comment to be honest.

    Saying a company is crap just because they shut down a product that was a recreation of 'their' game without 'their' permission is exactly what I would expect if i was in their shoes.

    The fact that the game is really well done only makes it worse. Square makes a lot of money remaking their older games and fans are happy to play them. Chrono trigger is a classic game - worthy of a remake, but to do it without the permission of square is just silly. If they have the talent - why not make an original game?

  • I dont think this is a very fair comment to be honest.

    Saying a company is crap just because they shut down a product that was a recreation of 'their' game without 'their' permission is exactly what I would expect if i was in their shoes.

    The fact that the game is really well done only makes it worse. Square makes a lot of money remaking their older games and fans are happy to play them. Chrono trigger is a classic game - worthy of a remake, but to do it without the permission of square is just silly. If they have the talent - why not make an original game?

    No, that is not the reason why I said that about Square Enix. SE are a crappy company, they have been releasing bad games since they have started. They have also destroyed the FF Franchise with the advent of FFXIII... I thought they learned from the horror that was FFX-2. However, SQUARESOFT was a great company with a tragic fate. I am not gonna get into details, because this is not what this thread is about.

    Back on topic: Yeah, the game is REALLY well done, something that Square Enix cannot seem to grasp with their games. CT it's a game worthy of a true remake as is FFVII. Re-releases aren't remakes (they do have some true remakes though, like FFIII and FFIV), SE are too busy with their fancy graphics and to care about anything gameplay worthy or remakes, so I support what this guys were doing, it was even free. At the end of the day, SE do hold the rights to these franchises and they have the power to do as they please with them... of course given you get caught in time. You say it's silly that they did this without SE permission, but I think it's even sillier to pay SE for a game you aren't planning to sell. What WAS silly, was them advertising the game like they did. Did SE HAVE to do this? Nope, they just decided to cos the game was too good, much better than any "remake" they have ever done. Were they wrong? That's up to each person to decide and I decide they were. You, however, might think otherwise and that's fine!

  • Im happy to agree to disagree with you about Square Enix. I think they are a great company (despite what I think about the recent FF's).

    But at the end of the day this has nothing to do with Square - Its about knowing that what you create is yours. Big company or small - we all deserve to have this right.

  • You think it's ok to give away someone else's work for free?

    Without asking them you're going to choose to take away any of their future sales?

    The graphics are textured but its essentially a copy and paste of the entire rest of the game.

    It can cost a company hundreds of thousands of dollars to hire awesome designers to design and develop a world, its locations, histories, species and characters, clothing and technology styles, voices and personalities.

    Companies and communities can and do make things using other people's Intellectual Property all the time because they ASK FIRST. And if they say no? That's saved everyone a metric butt-tonne of time.

    You clearly haven't had any experience in industry, but these are not giant grey buildings that eat money. We're talking about groups of people who risk their own money on trying to make something cool, and yes make profit.

    I find it really weird that most people have jobs which they do SOLELY for the money. "If it wasn't for the money, I'd quit" they say. But if someone else makes even more profit than you, now they're doing something immoral? This is "It's ok when I do it but awful if they do it" thinking.

    If the group *really* want to continue with the remake, make a deal with the company. They might even be able to sell the work they've done to Square so they can bring out a HD revamp of an old classic, as is happening with other games. For all you know Square Enix could already making a HD remake themselves.

    Loving a game does not make it your property.

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