Video games have become a massive industry, with millions of players and billions of dollars at stake. So it’s no surprise that game developers and publishers want to protect their creations and ideas from being copied by others.
Copyright laws allow us to protect creative works like games – but I’m often asked a related question: can you copyright a game idea?
This one’s a bit more complicated.
Can you copyright a video game idea?
The short answer is no.
Ideas, in and of themselves, are not subject to copyright protection. Copyright law protects original works of authorship that are fixed in a tangible medium of expression.
This means that a game idea alone is not enough to be protected by copyright law.
However, there are ways to protect your game and its components. Here are some tips:
While an idea is not protected by copyright, the expression of that idea is. This means that you can protect the specific elements that make up your game, such as the storyline, characters, models and art assets, and the game’s sound and music assets.
By focusing on these elements, you can prevent others from copying your game and profiting from it without your permission.
How can you protect your game’s copyright?
Given the fact that so much of your game’s value is wrapped up in the intellectual property (including the copyright), it’s extremely important that you protect that value.
How can you do that?
Here are the main things you can do in order to protect your game’s copyright.
Register your copyright
Even though you can’t copyright a game idea, you can register your copyright for the expression of that idea.
This will provide legal protection for your game and its components, and allow you to take legal action against those who infringe on your rights. It’s important to get the copyright registered within 90 days of publication in order to take advantage of certain statutory rights, plus you need to have a registration approved before you can sue anyone for copyright infringement in the US.
Read more about the benefits of copyright registration by checking out my post here.
Use non-disclosure agreements
When discussing your game with others, it’s important to protect your intellectual property from unauthorized disclosure before you’re ready to make it public.
By using non-disclosure agreements (NDAs), you can ensure that anyone you talk to about your game is legally bound to keep the information confidential.
This can prevent others from stealing your ideas and profiting from them – at the very least, it gives you legal recourse against them, including the ability to get a court to issue an injunction to stop any further release of your confidential information.
Patent your game mechanics
While game mechanics are not protected by copyright, they can potentially be protected by patents.
If you have developed a unique game mechanic or other technological innovation related to your game, you may want to consider applying for a patent. This will give you exclusive rights to that mechanic and prevent others from using it without your permission.
If you’d like more information on video game patents, check out my post here!
Monitor for infringement
Finally, it’s important to monitor for infringement of your game and its components.
This can include searching for copies of your game online (including torrent and crack/trainer sites) or games ripping off the contents of your game, monitoring social media and forums for discussions about your game, and tracking revenue and sales data.
If you discover that someone is infringing on your rights, you can take legal action to protect your intellectual property.
Wrapping it up – so, CAN you copyright a game idea?
In conclusion, while you can’t copyright a game idea, there are steps you can take to protect your game and its components.
By focusing on the expression of your game, registering your copyright, using non-disclosure agreements, patenting your game mechanics, and monitoring for infringement, you can help ensure that your hard work is protected from pirates, copycats, and other infringement.