Copyright and IP Law as pertaining to Interactive Media and the Games Industry:
IP stands for “Intellectual Property”, something intangible that is a result of creativity, such as a video game or movie. Copyright refers to the legal right that a person or company possesses regarding their IP, such as the artistic material associated with it and the ability to publish a game under that IP.
An important part of copyright, especially when it comes to IP and companies, are trademarks. Trademarks allow you to protect the logo of your company and game, as well as their names. When it comes to companies and triple AAA game development, trademarks are essential for the prolonged life of a series and the reputation of the company producing them. The name of a company or IP such as a game, holds heavy weight, especially in modern times. Names are brands and identities, holding sway over people’s opinions and allowing companies to illicit responses from a title alone. Many fans hold certain series dear to them, these IPs have specific identities that have been built up over time and turned into a brand of their own. Without trademark protection, anyone could create a game under the same name as your blockbuster, causing confusion among your fans and destroying the reputation of your IP. To secure a trademark, you must register it through the government. However, the process for securing copyright is quite different.
Copyright, which refers to the artistic, literary, auditory and code-related (falls under literary) elements created and expressed by a person, does not require registration or any legal process whatsoever. Instead, once those elements have been expressed into a medium of tangible quality, copyright immediately applies. You may also register a copyright for added protection and legal rights, however that is not essential.
Scène à faire is closely linked to copyright, however, this references artwork and elements that are required for something to work and are not able to be copyrighted. An example may be the handle of a door or a scoring system in a game.
Tied in with IP, copyright and trademarks are trade secrets, which refers to information that a company keeps secret. When employed by a company to work on a game or movie, you are required to sign a document called a NDA. This stands for “Non-Disclosure Agreement”, something that is put into place to ensure trade secrets are not leaked during development. This is especially important when developing new IPs, something that is extremely risky for game companies to commit to.
Patents protect inventions from being copied and stolen. The definition of an invention is rather flexible, ranging from a physical machine to a unique graphics creation software or technique. Some gaming and film production studios create their own internal software for their employees to use, such as specialised VFX or 3D modelling tools tailored towards a specific IP. These pieces of software may be patented, as well as act as a trade secret. The main issue with patents is securing them; as not only are they expensive but the classification of an invention, especially when it is something intangible such as a game mechanic, can be difficult to prove.
Attached to these concepts would be morals and ethics, with ethics being the morality that influences people’s behaviour and their perception of various activities. When applied to IP and legality, morality influences people’s perceptions of individuals and business practices. Not only is copying someone’s audio soundtrack verbatim and using it in your own game illegal, as you are violating copyright laws, but what you are doing is morally unjust. You would effectively be stealing from someone, lying and using their hard work as your own.
Another example of bad moral practices, as well as bad business practices, would be the exploitation of a fan base by a company. Including micro transactions inside a game is not illegal, but when it crosses the line between cosmetics and Pay to Win (P2W), it moves into a shady area in regards to morals. Many games, especially free to play (F2P) have fallen victim to developers becoming greedy, transforming their payment models in such a way that it forces players to fork out cash to be able to continue playing their game competitively. Now, that is not necessarily illegal, but it does reside in the ethical and moral realm of issues related to games and game development.
If you were to look at the content of games, not their payment models and in-game shops, other ethical considerations appear. These pertain more to decisions, or the lack thereof, presented to the player during gameplay. These decisions may include the option to either spare someone’s life or kill them, therefore presenting the player a moral dilemma. That is, however, a rudimentary example. More complex issues would present themselves when players are not given a choice, but are rather forced to watch their character, whom they are probably invested in, perform an unjust act. It becomes even more complex when a player is immersed in a game and has been submerged in the creation of their character and avatar, this can lead to ethical considerations needing to take place when the player is then subjected to extreme moral and ethical decisions. Video games do not cause violence, however, with the growing market and quality of games allowing the development of greater technology, players are able to become more and more immersed inside a game world. This may cause moral and ethical concerns about whether someone is able to make rational ethical decisions because of their subjection to such decisions without any real consequences inside a game world. At the moment, that does not present itself as a major issue, but with the rise of virtual reality and the increase in graphical fidelity, this may turn into a more serious concern.
On the subject of dashboards, in relation to vehicles such as cars, ethical and legal considerations need to be taken. The symbols and indicators located on a car dashboard need to be clear and readable, understandable by anyone operating the vehicle. Usually, a manual relating to the car should be located inside a glovebox or some form of storage in the vehicle. Inside that, information and explanations relating to the dashboard and the symbols found there can be accessed.
The car manufacturers need to ensure that there is sufficient information available to the driver pertaining to their vehicle so that they understand how to effectively operate and handle it, if not, damages may occur that the driver may deem the manufacturer responsible for. The accuser may support their argument with the lack of information regarding the symbols on the dashboard, saying they were not aware that it was a warning light or the meaning behind the symbol. This is where universal clarity and readability of symbols and icons comes into play. If the symbols are designed well, most people should be able to understand them, even if they have only a basic knowledge of driving and vehicles.
Similar concepts apply to game HUDs, in regards to their layout and readability. The game developers need to ensure that the player is able to access the relevant information efficiently, providing an immersive and enjoyable user experience. The developers may borrow from real life, and be inspired by it, but they must be careful not to directly copy other people’s designs. The symbols and icons used in some vehicles may be copyrighted by the company producing and manufacturing that vehicles, or perhaps it may be a Scène à faire situation, where the symbols are required for general use and operation of the vehicle. More research would then be conducted into each individual case, however, symbols such as batteries and exclamation marks are general purpose and not unique, therefore they most definitely fall under scène à faire.
Several acts and laws regarding IP, Law, Copyright, Patents and Trademarks are:
-Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 (CDPA)
-ACTA trade agreement
-Copyright (Computer Programs) Regulations 1992
-The Copyright and Related Rights Regulations 2003
BBC – What is Copyright? – Copyright. (2017). [online] Bbc.co.uk. Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/copyrightaware/what-is [Accessed 16 Feb. 2017].
Chang, S. and Dannenberg, R. (2017). Gamasutra – Hey, That�s MY Game! Intellectual Property Protection for Video Games. [online] Gamasutra.com. Available at: http://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/3546/hey_thats_my_game_intellectual_.php?print=1 [Accessed 16 Feb. 2017].
Copyright. (2017). [online] En.wikipedia.org. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Copyright [Accessed 16 Feb. 2017].
Duhaime, L. (2013). Copyright. [online] Duhaime.org – Learn Law. Available at: http://www.duhaime.org/LegalResources/IntellectualProperty/LawArticle-116/Copyright.aspx [Accessed 16 Feb. 2017].
Duhaime, L. (2017). Scenes A Faire Definition. [online] Duhaime.org. Available at: http://www.duhaime.org/LegalDictionary/S/ScenesAFaire.aspx [Accessed 16 Feb. 2017].
Gardiner, T. (2015). What part of board games besides the name is governed by trademark/copyright/patent law? – Quora. [online] Quora.com. Available at: https://www.quora.com/What-part-of-board-games-besides-the-name-is-governed-by-trademark-copyright-patent-law [Accessed 16 Feb. 2017].
Greenspan, D. (2014). Video Games and IP: A Global Perspective. [online] Wipo.int. Available at: http://www.wipo.int/wipo_magazine/en/2014/02/article_0002.html [Accessed 16 Feb. 2017].
How to Register a Trademark for a Company Name – Small Business – WSJ.com. (2016). [online] Guides.wsj.com. Available at: http://guides.wsj.com/small-business/starting-a-business/how-to-trademark-a-company-name/ [Accessed 16 Feb. 2017].
Hut, Z. (2010). How closely can a game legally resemble another?. [online] Gamedev.stackexchange.com. Available at: http://gamedev.stackexchange.com/questions/1653/how-closely-can-a-game-legally-resemble-another [Accessed 16 Feb. 2017].
Intellectual property and your work – GOV.UK. (2016). [online] Gov.uk. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/intellectual-property-an-overview/what-ip-is [Accessed 16 Feb. 2017].
Intellectual Property Office, (2014). Copyright Acts and related laws – Publications – GOV.UK. [online] Gov.uk. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/copyright-acts-and-related-laws [Accessed 16 Feb. 2017].
Intellectual Property Office, (2017). Intellectual property: Copyright – GOV.UK. [online] Gov.uk. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/topic/intellectual-property/copyright [Accessed 16 Feb. 2017].
Intellectual property. (2017). [online] En.wikipedia.org. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intellectual_property [Accessed 16 Feb. 2017].
Margaret, (2016). IP Lawyer Training Game. [online] Open Law Lab. Available at: http://www.openlawlab.com/2016/11/30/ip-lawyer-training-game/ [Accessed 16 Feb. 2017].
Methenitis, M. (2007). Law of the Game: Copyright: What Every Gamer, Developer, and Aspiring Game Developer Needs to Know. [online] Lawofthegame.blogspot.co.uk. Available at: http://lawofthegame.blogspot.co.uk/2007/06/copyright-what-every-gamer-developer.html [Accessed 16 Feb. 2017].
New Media Rights, (2011). Video Games and the law: Copyright, Trademark and Intellectual Property | New Media Rights. [online] Newmediarights.org. Available at: http://newmediarights.org/guide/legal/Video_Games_law_Copyright_Trademark_Intellectual_Property [Accessed 16 Feb. 2017].
Nowak, P. (2010). MythBusting: Game Design and Copyright, Trademarks, and Patents (US Law) | BoardGameGeek | BoardGameGeek. [online] Boardgamegeek.com. Available at: https://boardgamegeek.com/thread/493249/mythbusting-game-design-and-copyright-trademarks-a [Accessed 16 Feb. 2017].
Quinn, G. (2011). Patenting Board Games 101 – IPWatchdog.com | Patents & Patent Law. [online] IPWatchdog.com | Patents & Patent Law. Available at: http://www.ipwatchdog.com/2011/12/22/patenting-board-games-101/id=21356/ [Accessed 16 Feb. 2017].
Scènes à faire. (2017). [online] En.wikipedia.org. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sc%C3%A8nes_%C3%A0_faire [Accessed 16 Feb. 2017].
Sellars, S. and Bicknell, P. (2015). Practical Law. [online] Uk.practicallaw.com. Available at: http://uk.practicallaw.com/2-598-3565 [Accessed 16 Feb. 2017].
Car Dashboard Warning Lights – What They Mean | RAC. (2017). [online] Rac.co.uk. Available at: http://www.rac.co.uk/breakdown-cover/car-dashboard-warning-lights-meaning [Accessed 17 Feb. 2017].
Contractual, Legal, Ethical and Professional Issues Within the Games Industry. (2012). [online] Hsunit13.blogspot.co.uk. Available at: http://hsunit13.blogspot.co.uk/2012/05/contractual-legal-ethical-and.html [Accessed 17 Feb. 2017].
Jenkins, H. (2010). Ethics and Game Design: A Conversation (Part One). [online] Henryjenkins.org. Available at: http://henryjenkins.org/2010/08/ethics_and_games_a_conversatio.html [Accessed 17 Feb. 2017].
Mattwattsmedia, (2012). Legal, Ethical and Contractual constraints in the Media Industry. [online] Slideshare.net. Available at: http://www.slideshare.net/Mattwattsmedia/legal-ethical-and-contractual-constraints-in-the-media-industry-13456879 [Accessed 17 Feb. 2017].
Takahashi, D. (2004). Gamasutra – Ethics Of Game Design. [online] Gamasutra.com. Available at: http://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/2181/ethics_of_game_design.php?print=1 [Accessed 17 Feb. 2017].
Victory Media, (2014). The Game Industry – contractual, legal & ethical. [online] Slideshare.net. Available at: http://www.slideshare.net/jcolebrook/the-game-industry-contractual-legal-ethical [Accessed 17 Feb. 2017].