How long do video game copyrights last?

Video game copyright protection is an important issue for game developers and publishers. As with any other form of intellectual property, such as patents and trademarks, video game copyright provides exclusive legal rights to the owners of the copyright, which can include game developers and publishers.

These legal rights prevent others from using or copying the game without permission, and help to protect the owners’ commercial interests. But how long does video game copyright protection last?

Let’s take a closer look.

What is video game copyright?

Copyright is a legal term that refers to the exclusive right to reproduce, distribute, perform, and display a particular work. In the case of video games, this means that the game developer or publisher holds the exclusive right to control the use and distribution of the game, including the code, art, music, and other elements of the game.

Copyright protection is automatic, meaning that as soon as the game is created, the copyright belongs to the game developer or publisher. However, registering the copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office provides additional legal protection and benefits.

How long do video game copyrights last?

The length of time that a video game copyright lasts depends on several factors, including the date of creation and the country of origin. In general, video game copyright lasts for a certain number of years after the death of the creator, or for a set number of years after the game is published. Here are some general guidelines:

United States

In the United States, video game copyright lasts for the life of the creator plus 70 years. This means that if the creator of the game is still alive, the copyright lasts for 70 years after their death. If the creator is deceased, the copyright lasts for 70 years after the year of their death.

However, if the game was created as a work-for-hire, where the game developer or publisher paid for the creation of the game, then the copyright lasts for 95 years from the date of publication, or 120 years from the date of creation, whichever comes first.

European Union

In the European Union, video game copyright lasts for the life of the creator plus 70 years (per EU directives).

However, the EU has a concept known as “sui generis” database rights, which provides additional protection for the data in a video game. Database rights last for 15 years from the creation of the database, or from the date of the last substantial change to the database.

Other Countries

Other countries have their own copyright laws, and the length of time that video game copyright lasts can vary. In Canada, for example, copyright lasts for the life of the creator plus 70 years. In Japan, video game copyright lasts for 70 years, but works released before the law changed may enter the public domain earlier.

What happens after video game copyright expires?

Once video game copyright protection expires, the game becomes part of the public domain, which means that anyone can use, distribute, or copy the game without permission.

However, most video games have not been around long enough to enter into the public domain – you can check my public domain calculator here to make sure (especially if you’re reading this in the far future!).

Unless a video game has failed earlier notice and renewal requirements (which are no longer actually required) most likely a video game is going to still be under copyright.

It’s worth noting, however, that even after copyright protection expires, there may still be other forms of legal protection for the game, such as trademark or patent protection.

  • Trademarks protect logos, names, and other distinctive branding elements, and can last (at least in the US) as long as you’re actually using the trademark in commerce.
  • Patents, on the other hand, protect new and useful inventions, including gameplay mechanics or other unique elements of a video game – these last for 20 years in the US.

Conclusion – how long does copyright last?

In summary, video game copyright lasts for a certain number of years after the creation of the game, and varies depending on the country of origin.

It’s important to know this, both to ensure you’re protecting your own copyrighted video game works and to make sure you’re not infringing on any other works that have active copyright protection!

Got a copyright question and need a lawyer? Jump over to my contact page to set up a free consultation.

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Zachary Strebeck

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