The top 10 legal mistakes by games developers

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I was honoured to give the first talk at Rezzed 2015 in London earlier this month, where I gave a short practical talk about the top 10 legal mistakes that games developers frequently make, why they are mistakes and what to do about them.  Here’s the slides below – enjoy! [Newsletter readers, you can find the slides here:]


A practical legal guide to owning your own IP

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One of my most frequently encountered – and important – jobs as a digital entertainment lawyer is to advise on intellectual property ownership: who owns which bits of this great game/software/artwork/video/audio etc? This comes up so often, and from time to time can cause such controversy in the press, that I thought I might write some quick pointers about it, which I hope you’ll find useful.

TL;DR: to make sure you own your stuff, here’s some tips about IP and contract law.  I’ve also given you a free template document, too!


Why DMCA and trademark protection is a no-brainer: the Darkest Dungeon scam

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I just saw an interesting story on Eurogamer: the developer of Darkest Dungeon, a popular new indie game, has hit out at a clearly fake version of its game on the Windows Games Store.  The developer is said to have reached out to Microsoft for help.  I’m sure they will oblige in due course.

I thought I’d take this opportunity to write a quick post because what you probably WON’T read about is what Microsoft, or any other platform which is said to be hosting fake/fraudulent/illegal/infringing content (“content” btw might be games, film, audio, artwork – anything) might say in response to the developer: (more…)

Games law war stories: the fax contract that saved Tetris

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Lawyers love to hear good legal war stories.  Games industry folks love to hear how a deal was put together.   Well, I just heard such a good little one that I had to share it with you.  The DICE conference over in Las Vegas just had a wonderful session of Alexey Pajitnov (inventor of Tetris) and Henk Rogers (his longtime business partner) interviewing each other about the history of Tetris and their partnership together (it was broadcast on Twitch).

Anyway, when I tuned in Rogers was in the middle of explaining how he came to meet Pajitnov for the first time (btw, in case you don’t know who these legends are, here’s an explanation of the history of the Tetris legal saga which I wrote in 2010!): Rogers had flown to (then still Soviet) Russia to try to get a licence from Pajitnov’s organisation for rights to distribute Tetris on Gameboy.  He *had* to get the licence on that trip or be ruined financially, since he already had the Gameboy version in production!  The Russians wanted to play for time.  So – and at this stage I’m now paraphrasing what Rogers was saying on Twitch as closely as I can remember – Rogers played hardball, throwing at the Russians as much legalese as he could think of or make up, including telling them that after a period of time his offer would automatically become “null and void” (nice).

Then, once he thinks he’s making progress, he makes a long distance call to his lawyer in Japan.  It takes 8 hours to connect to his lawyer and, once he gets through, he gives the lawyer a fax number and tells him to send over a contract of no more than 20 pages, which has to give Rogers every right he could need to license Tetris from the Russians, can’t have long words (because Rogers needs to be able to explain every word of it to the Russians) and it has to be fair to both sides because there won’t be a second shot at this.  Then, says Rogers, 24 hours later his lawyer sends over “the best contract I ever read in the industry”. At this point, Pajitnov nods sagely and adds “it was”.

What a story.  I’m sure it ended up being somewhat more complicated but, still, whoever Henk Rogers’ lawyer was, I salute you!

Can you pirate your own video game?


Hotline Miami 2, the forthcoming sequel to the excellent indie game Hotline Miami (note: I wrote that in bold, underline and italics to show how much I mean it), has been denied classification in Australia (another victim of the relatively restrictive local age rating system there).  So its developer instead just told Australian fans to pirate the game for free, attracting no small amount of games press in the process (hello, Streisand Effect).  So, I thought I’d write a little post on the subject of what happens legally if a developer pirates, or encourages piracy of, its own video game?   (more…)

A quick practical guide to EU free to play games regulation

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I spoke at the PocketGamer Connects conference in London today about the EU’s free to play games regulation: I thought that a quick presentation based on actual free to play games might help illustrate this fast growing and uncertain area of law.  Here’s the slides – let me know what you think! [For those viewing via newsletter: it’s here.]

Season’s Greetings from Gamer/Law

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Hi everyone – this is a quick message to wish you all a great holiday break and best wishes for 2015!  In the meantime, I found this dusty old letter from a corner of our old client files recently and thought you might like to read it…(click on it for the full version!) (more…)

A practical guide to the EU’s new VAT rules, video games and digital content sales

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So, what’s happening?

From 1 January 2015, new EU tax rules will require value added tax (VAT) to be charged on paid digital content (like video games, apps, digital music and video) at the VAT rate of each EU country where its customers are based.

How is this different to the existing system?

Previously digital businesses could charge VAT across the whole EU based on the country where its business was located (e.g. a UK business could in principle charge VAT of 20%, being the UK’s VAT rate).  Now, in principle they will have to use up to 27 VAT rates (one for each EU Member State) if they fall under the new rules. (more…)

The latest games trademark controversy: S.T.A.L.K.E.R and STALKER


If you haven’t played the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. series of PC video games, you really should – it’s a glorious first person survival game based in and around a fictional Ukraine where the Chernobyl nuclear plant exploded a second time and changed the world around it (it’s based loosely on the excellent Stugatsky brothers’ short science fiction novel, Roadside Picnic).  Some of my best memories about emergent storytelling in games come from that series.

Anyway, enough of the games nostalgia.  I’m writing about STALKER (as I shall call it, to save my poor ‘.’ key) for cold legal purposes, because it is generating our latest games trademark controversy.  More in a moment, but first I want to credit two articles on the legal issues with STALKER which were influential on me: this Polygon feature on the story more generally and this PC Gamer article on the trademark troubles just now.

One more thing – if you’re not sure what a trademark actually is, read my quick guide to demystifying trademarks and games.

So, here we go: (more…)

Activision v Noriega analysed: don’t make way for the bad guy

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Back in July 2014 I wrote a post about whether a dictator (Manuel Noriega of Panama) could control his online image in a video game (the hit game Call of Duty: Black Ops 2)?  We now have an answer: nope.  In a short judgment which is interesting for all kinds of reasons, a Californian court has come down resoundingly on Activision’s side and dismissed Mr Noriega’s claims.  Read on more… (more…)