Unless you’ve been living under a rock the past decade or so, you know that video games are an extremely popular form of entertainment.
However, with so many games being developed and released (literally hundreds or thousands per day – it’s crazy), the issue of copyright infringement is a growing concern for game developers.
In this post, I’ll explore some examples of copyright infringement in video games.
Examples of the types of copyright infringement in games
Copyright infringement can come in many forms! I’ve collected just a few here.
By the way – if you want a quick primer on game copyright, you can check out my post on copyrighting your game here.
Use of Copyrighted Characters
One of the most common forms of copyright infringement in video games is the unauthorized use of copyrighted characters.
This can include characters from movies, television shows, or other games. For example, the use of Mario, Link, or the Pokemon from Nintendo’s popular video game franchises in an unauthorized game could result in legal action (and has!).
Replication of Game Mechanics
In some cases, video game developers may replicate game mechanics from other games without permission. This can include copying the gameplay, interface, or other elements that make a game unique. For example, the game “Fortnite” was accused of copying gameplay elements from the game “PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds.”
However, given the distinction between “idea”/mechanics and the copyrightable expression of those mechanics, this is usually not something that qualifies as infringement without something “more.” See this post for more info.
Use of Music or Sound Effects
Video games often feature music or sound effects that are copyrighted. If a game developer uses these elements without permission, they could be accused of copyright infringement. For example, the game “Guitar Hero” was sued for using copyrighted songs without permission.
Use of Artwork or Images
Video games may feature artwork or images that are copyrighted.
If a game developer uses these elements without permission, they could be accused of copyright infringement. For example, the game Resident Evil 4 was recently sued for using artwork without permission – I covered it on my blog here.
Fan-made games are a common example of copyright infringement in the video game industry.
These games are often created by fans of existing games or franchises, and may use copyrighted characters or other elements without permission. For example, the game “Pokémon Uranium” was shut down after being released by fans of the Pokémon franchise.
Examples of Copyright Infringement cases in Video Games
Atari Games Corp. v. Nintendo of America, Inc. (1992) & Sega Enterprises Ltd. v. Accolade, Inc. (1992)
These two cases dealt with copyright infringement claims for reverse-engineering the code of Nintendo’s and Sega’s video game consoles by the other parties, to make their own games compatible with it.
Accolade argued that reverse-engineering was necessary to create its own games, and that it did not infringe on Sega’s copyright. The court in the Sega case ruled in favor of Accolade, stating that reverse-engineering was protected under fair use. But in the Nintendo/Atari case, which had similar facts, there was an additional wrinkle in that Atari had illegally obtained software code from the Copyright Office – that move netted them a loss.
Tetris Holding LLC v. Xio Interactive, Inc. (2012)
Tetris Holding, the owner of the video game “Tetris,” sued Xio Interactive for copyright infringement, claiming that Xio’s game “Mino” was a copy of “Tetris.”
The court found that the games were substantially similar, and that Xio had copied the expression of the game, rather than just the idea. The court ruled in favor of Tetris Holding.
Blizzard Entertainment, Inc. v. Bossland GMBH (2017)
Blizzard Entertainment, the developer of the video game “World of Warcraft,” sued Bossland for copyright infringement, claiming that Bossland’s software allowed players to cheat in the game, which was a violation of the game’s terms of service.
Bossland argued that its software did not infringe on Blizzard’s copyright. The court ruled in favor of Blizzard, and awarded the company $8.6 million in damages.
Nintendo Co. Ltd. v. MariCar, Inc. (2018)
Nintendo sued MariCar, a Japanese company that offered tours of Tokyo in go-karts, for copyright infringement, claiming that the go-karts were designed to look like the characters from Nintendo’s game “Mario Kart.”
The court ruled in favor of Nintendo, stating that the go-karts were indeed infringing on Nintendo’s copyright. MariCar was ordered to pay damages to Nintendo and to stop using the infringing go-karts.
In conclusion, copyright infringement is a significant concern in the video game industry.
With so many games being developed and released, it can be challenging to ensure that all elements are original and not in violation of copyright laws. Game developers must be diligent in their efforts to create unique content and obtain proper permissions when necessary to avoid potential legal issues.
Frequently asked questions about Video Game Copyright:
What aspects of a video game are protected by copyright?
A video game is a complex work that includes a variety of elements that can be protected by copyright. These include the code, graphics, sound, music, characters, dialogue, and story. Additionally, some games may incorporate other copyrighted material, such as licensed music, that may also be subject to protection.
Can I use copyrighted material in my video game?
Generally, no. Unless you have obtained permission or a license to use the material, using copyrighted material in your game may be considered infringement. However, there are some instances where using copyrighted material may be considered fair use, such as for commentary, criticism, or parody. It’s important to consult with an attorney to determine whether your use of copyrighted material is permissible.
Can I copyright my video game idea?
No. Ideas themselves are not subject to copyright protection, but rather the specific expression of those ideas. This means that you cannot copyright your idea for a video game, but you can protect the specific code, graphics, and other elements that make up the game. Check out this post for more info.
What should I do if I discover that my game has been copied?
If you discover that someone has copied your game, the first step is to gather evidence of the infringement. This may include taking screenshots or videos of the infringing game, as well as gathering any correspondence or other evidence of the copying. You should also consult with an attorney to determine the best course of action, which may include filing a DMCA takedown notice, sending a cease and desist letter, filing a lawsuit, or pursuing other legal remedies.
How can I protect my video game from copyright infringement?
There are several steps you can take to help protect your video game from copyright infringement, including:
- Register your copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office
- Include a copyright notice in the game’s credits and on promotional materials
- Use licenses or agreements to ensure that any third-party content used in the game is properly licensed
- Monitor the market for potential infringing games or content
- Consider implementing technological measures to prevent copying, such as digital rights management (DRM)