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!


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…)

An international legal guide to games development and distribution

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Last year I gave a lecture at the Gamer Tech Law conference in Seattle with the rather ambitious title of “Going Global: legal and business issues for international games development and distribution”.  As you can imagine, that’s a lot to cover – even in a lecture directed at other lawyers.  Anyway, below is the lecture I delivered, in which I talked the audience through international angles on: contracts, IP, distribution structures, consumer protection, advertising, age ratings and privacy.  Enjoy! (more…)

Small UK IP lawsuits get quicker and cheaper (in theory)

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A long awaited development in UK civil procedure is due to make low value IP infringement claims quicker and cheaper.  It is called the small claims track, it will be open for IP infringement cases worth less than £5,000 and it will be heard by the specialist Patents County Court.

My friend Rosie Burbidge, a solicitor at Rouse (as well as a writer of the Art and Artifice art law blog and contributor to the famous IPKat IP law blog) wrote on the Guardian about this development.  This is (some of) what she said: (more…)

Tetris wins the first legal victory against clones

The Tetris Company has won a court case against the developer of an iOS Tetris clone  – this is a really significant legal development in fighting clones, so I’m quite excited about it.  The case is here and is reported on extensively by the 1709 copyright law blog (via Rosie Burbidge – thanks!), which I recommend you read, so I’ll just summarise the facts briefly here and add a few observations. (more…)

On piracy

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About this time last week I wrote the second of my monthly columns on Edge, this time about defending the rights of developers to take legal action against pirates of their games.  You can read it here.  The genesis of the post was me reading about CD Projekt, developer of The Witcher 1 and 2, deciding to take legal action against pirates of its games, as well as some recent appalling statistics published by Torrentfreak about piracy of PC and console games in 2011.  This made me decide to write about two things: (1) my views that the arguments opposing legal action vs pirates aren’t actually that good; and (2) that I feel really sympathetic for developers like CD Projekt and Crytek, whose bottom line has been savaged by piracy.  Anyway, so I wrote the column.  Then the Internet got a bit excited for a day or so.

The Internet v CD Projekt: a Legal Perspective

This is guest post by John Wrigley, a gamer and law student
As a law student and as an enthusiastic gamer, I can’t help but have noticed the recent controversy surrounding CD Projekt. In case you haven’t been following it, the story goes something like this: CD Projekt release The Witcher 2 without any DRM. Some people, as some people inevitably do, pirated it. Now CD Projekt are sending letters to people that they believe have pirated the game demanding a sum somewhere in the region of €750, with the backup threat of a legal suit if the person does not pay up. Many people are quite upset about this, including Mr John Walker at Rock Paper Shotgun, whose recent words on the subject you can find hereand here. This post attempts to offer an insight into the legal position behind the events. What this article isn’t about is creating solutions or settling the debate, its purpose is solely to try and raise awareness of the legal doings and beings and to maybe try to challenge some of the common misunterstandings about the way the law works.

Should an employer own everything their developers do?


Over the weekend I inadvertantly sparked off an interesting debate on Twitter about the clauses in developer employment agreements which transfer ownership of the IP in their work to their employer (which was originally raised in this Ars Technica post). There’s different flavours of this kind of clause of course, from simple clauses that ensure the employer retains the IP in a game that the developer is building for the employer (e.g. ‘I’m Nintendo, I own all the IP in the Super Mario game you build for me’), to more onerous clauses that require the developer to give up the IP in effectively all his/her work – including work done in their spare time (e.g. using employer facilities/know-how/support).