If you’re like any of my game developer clients, you’ve created a video game that’s worth protecting.
One of the best ways to protect your game’s valuable intellectual property is through copyright. Copyright law grants exclusive rights to the creator of an original work, including the right to reproduce, distribute, and display that work.
In this blog post, we’ll explore how to copyright your game and what steps you can take to ensure that your work is fully protected.
Step 1: Determine whether your game is eligible for copyright
To be eligible for copyright, your game must meet two main requirements: it must be an original work and it must be fixed in a tangible medium of expression.
In other words, it must be something that can be seen or heard, such as code, artwork, or sound effects. The good news is that pretty much anything you create for the game that is original (not licensed from a third party, like your game engine or licensed music) will be eligible for copyright protection.
The second element there, “fixed in a tangible medium of expression,” just means that there is some permanency to the work. If you’ve saved the file, you’ve written something on a piece of paper, or taken a photo, you’ve met this requirement.
Some things in your game won’t be eligible for copyright – these include:
- Ideas that are integrated into the game – the idea of a Greek god fighting monsters and the other gods isn’t an idea you can protect, but the specific expression of that idea (Kratos’ specific story in the God of War series) is something that’s protectable. Read my post here for more.
- The game’s underlying mechanics
- Game elements that are common to the genre (an aiming reticle for FPS games or maybe a generic camouflage pattern) probably aren’t protectible either, unless there’s some really original expression there
Once you have determined that your game meets these requirements, you can move on to the next step.
Step 2: Register your copyright
Although copyright automatically exists as soon as your game is created and the elements are “fixed” (like we talked about above), registering your copyright with the United States Copyright Office is strongly recommended.
Registering your copyright gives you legal proof of your ownership and provides additional legal protections, such as the ability to sue for damages in the event of infringement.
You also gain access to something called “statutory damages” which allows you to claim damages without proving how much you were actually damaged, plus go after the infringer for attorneys’ fees. This is a good thing, believe me.
You’re also required to have a full registration (not just an application that’s awaiting approval) in order to sue someone for copyright infringement in the US. This can be important for when you need to protect your copyright in Step 3 below.
To register your copyright, follow these steps:
- Visit the Copyright Office website and complete the appropriate application form
- Pay the required filing fee (currently $65 for online registration, or $800 additional for an expedited filing)
- Submit a copy of your game or specimens including screenshots, videos, and a sample of game code (this can get complicated, because there are specific rules about this)
- Wait for confirmation from the Copyright Office (they just mail you the certificate if it’s registered, or they email you or your laweyer if there’s a problem)
It can take anywhere from a day if you expedite it, to nearly a year, to get this registration, so you should get the application in as soon as your game is “complete” and ready to publish.
Step 3: Protect your copyright
Once you have registered your copyright, there are additional steps you can take to protect your work and prevent others from infringing on your copyright. These steps include:
- Displaying a copyright notice on your game and any promotional materials
- Using digital rights management (DRM) software to prevent unauthorized copying or distribution of your game
- Monitoring the internet for instances of copyright infringement
- Taking legal action against infringers, if necessary
Step 4: Keep your copyright up-to-date
Copyright protection lasts for the life of the creator plus 70 years. However, it’s important to keep your copyright up-to-date to ensure that you’re covering everything in your game.
This includes filing new registrations for additional elements (DLC, updated versions, sequels, etc.) and updating your copyright notice to reflect any changes in ownership or authorship (if you’ve assigned your copyrights to a company you formed, for example).
In conclusion, copyright protection is an essential part of protecting your video game and its assets. By following the steps outlined above, you can help ensure that your work is fully protected and that you have the legal proof you need to defend your rights in the event of infringement.
Need help? Contact me and we can discuss how to get your copyright filed – I have flat fee legal services to help out with protecting your copyrights, trademarks, and all kinds of other services.