Copyright laws changing?

You can talk about almost anything that you want to on this board.

Moderator: Moderators

Post Reply
Posts: 70
Joined: Fri Oct 28, 2016 12:37 pm

Copyright laws changing?

Post by casprog » Wed Sep 05, 2018 8:19 pm

So I'm almost done with my next project which uses a mechanic similar to an old windows 3.1 game (going way back here). I was curious about copyright laws, even though my game has various changes, different art, etc, and stumbled upon this video which is long but very interesting:

To summarize, in theory the law is you cannot copyright an idea or game rules, but instead copyright the expression of those ideas which include graphics, audio, etc, but the mobile game market seems to have changed that (or is starting to).

I'm not trying to rip off ideas by any means, but now I'm concerned that if one day I decide to try and publish a project I need to be super careful about game mechanics now too? or patterns within game mechanics?

Do you guys think NES homebrew published games are at risk of these legal battles?

User avatar
Posts: 11861
Joined: Sat Feb 12, 2005 9:43 pm
Location: Rio de Janeiro - Brazil

Re: Copyright laws changing?

Post by tokumaru » Wed Sep 05, 2018 9:43 pm

I was always under the impression that game mechanics couldn't be copyrighted, since almost every successful game spawns a series of clones almost immediately without any consequence. But then I see how Tetris clones for example are given a hard time for copying the game mechanics and I can't really tell anymore.

Posts: 70
Joined: Fri Oct 28, 2016 12:37 pm

Re: Copyright laws changing?

Post by casprog » Wed Sep 05, 2018 11:44 pm

Yeah in the video they talk about a recent lawsuit case of a Tetris clone, Mino.

The clone creator's argument was that the concept of Tetris is by nature all mechanical, and only changing the look of the pieces should suffice but that didn't hold up in court.

Another game which got a hard time was Yeti Town which had similar mechanics to a game called Triple Town. The patterns and art were different.

I guess even if a copyright lawyer says you're fine these days you never know how other lawyers / judges will perceive your work since there doesn't seem to be a central method to deduce, it's a bit complicated, and surely by now mechanics have been done and done again.

User avatar
Posts: 4218
Joined: Sun Sep 19, 2004 9:28 pm
Location: A world gone mad

Re: Copyright laws changing?

Post by koitsu » Thu Sep 06, 2018 12:05 am

Speaking about the United States in particular (I'm not familiar with other countries' copyright laws):

The short answer is: any game, homebrew or commercial, is subject to potential lawsuit. You can sue for any reason you want (I don't like your shoes, I'm taking you to court!) The trick is finding an attorney who will take the case + feels its worth their time (and money).

But you can't live in fear of these sorts of things. Anything could happen any moment. All you can do is do some research before hand. Some games do things like file patents for particularly "unique" things (and the USPTO is notorious for allowing complete crap patents through); they'll usually state it somewhere on their site, in the manual, etc..

If your stuff seems similar to something else out there, enough to even make you say "maybe...?", then the next step is to consult either an a) intellectual property lawyer or b) copyright lawyer. If you aren't sure, contact one and they'll tell you what kind of attorney you should be seeking (and possibly refer you to someone). Worthwhile lawyers will give you about 5-10 minutes of their time to explain your situation, free of charge. Anything past that and, well, you know the phrase: time is money.

If you're indie and you find something that seems similar to what you are doing or want to do, and the other party is also indie, I suggest talking to them about it privately. Good indie companies or individuals/teams can draft an agreement, signed by both, that basically says "our games are kinda similar, but yet not, and we agree not to sue one another". While this seems pointless at first glance, it isn't when you consider that many indie games, if they're a hit, get bought by a larger company/conglomerate. Those tend to have strong legal presence and may sue at the drop of a hat; that piece of paper can keep that from happening. Any such contact etc. should be saved indefinitely in case something ever DOES come up.

Tetris has an *extremely* long and established history of lawsuits, going all the way back to the 80s. It worsened in the mid-90s when Pajitnov finally got rights to his game (vs. the Russian state) and created The Tetris Company. They even have sued people over identical shapes or screen layouts. I wouldn't be surprised if there's been several hundreds of cases dealing with copyright regarding Tetris. So in general, tetris-like stuff should be avoided (given the track record) unless you plan on getting said company's blessing.

But anyway. In general: yes, consult an IP or copyright attorney, if you're that concerned. It's worth a little money (sometimes as low as 3 digits, depending on the lawyer, but I would expect 4 digit range) for peace of mind.

Polite and respectful reminder, just as a disclaimer: none of us here on this forum are lawyers. TMK, no one here (incl. myself) has practised law. So take what we say with a grain of salt legally.

Posts: 22052
Joined: Sun Sep 19, 2004 11:12 pm
Location: NE Indiana, USA (NTSC)

Re: Copyright laws changing?

Post by tepples » Fri May 29, 2020 5:18 pm

See also Previous Tetris discussion

The ruling in Tetris v. Xio was primarily that the Tetris mechanics aren't copyrighted, but the choice of the seven one-sided tetrominoes as the piece set is.

Post Reply