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!
Continue reading A practical legal guide to owning your own IP
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: Continue reading Why DMCA and trademark protection is a no-brainer: the Darkest Dungeon scam
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? Continue reading Can you pirate your own video game?
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: Continue reading The latest games trademark controversy: S.T.A.L.K.E.R and STALKER
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… Continue reading Activision v Noriega analysed: don’t make way for the bad guy
I thought I knew the history of the games industry (especially having read Tristan Donovan’s excellent “Replay: a history of video games“). I also thought I knew a thing or two about interactive entertainment law. However, putting the two together I learned something new the other day: the first ever video game patent was filed in 1947. 1947!!
You can see it here. It was an application made by two employees of US television company Dumont and was for what they referred to charmingly as a “Cathode Ray Amusement Device“. It was beautifully written. My favourite extracts: Continue reading Games Law History: the first ever games patent
I just read in Develop that Activision is bringing back its dormant Sierra publishing label. For those who don’t know: Sierra was once a driving force in games development and publishing in the 1980s and 1990s but suffered a long decline into the 2000s, effect shutting down finally by the late Noughties.
This made me think two things: (1) that’s great news (I have warm feelings from back in the day about Sierra games); and (2) this is another example of how keeping a brand alive legally through its dormant phase means it can spring back to life in the future – as Sierra is now doing.
In particular, I’m thinking that the legal team (at Sierra, its previous owner Vivendi and then Activision) decided to keep Sierra as part of Activision’s trademark portfolio all these years, despite its decline. That’s ofc good corporate legal practice, but if the Sierra trademark had been allowed to lapse, I strongly suspect that Activision would NOT now be bringing back to life this veteran publishing name in the games industry. That”s because it would no longer have any exclusive control over ‘Sierra’ in relation to games and that means it could potentially be challenged, or even blocked from reviving the Sierra games label altogether. So, if there wasn’t Sierra trademarks still ongoing, there wouldn’t be a return of Sierra now. Continue reading Activision resurrects Sierra thanks to good trademark practices
News has broken that Manuel Noriega, the former military dictator of Panama, is suing Activision on the claim that his name and likeness is used as a supporting character in the latest game in the multi-billion dollar Call of Duty game series, Call of Duty: Black Ops 2.
In a nutshell: the game is set in the 1980s and includes Noriega as a supporting character involved in murder, betrayal and intrigue (the normal day job for any dictator, then). It’s clear that Activision have strived for a realistic depiction of Noriega (as they have done for other historical characters by the way including John F. Kennedy, Richard Nixon and even Fidel Casto), but General Noriega wasn’t happy with that and has sued Activision, claiming essentially that they should have asked his permission and have profited from using his image and name without permission. In essence, I suspect he wants to be paid a large sum of money from Activision. Continue reading Noriega v Activision: can a dictactor control his online image?
We now have some authoritative clarification about the legal status of modchips in the EU for the first time. As longstanding readers of this blog will know, I’ve been writing about modchips for some time. Here’s a quick recap of the latest position.
What are modchips?
Essentially, a modchip is a technology which permits you to circumvent restrictions which a device manufacturer builds into a device to limit your potential usage of the device. These limitations are enforced by technology commonly called ‘technological protection measures’. For example, a modchip might permit you to install software or to play games on a device which otherwise you wouldn’t be able to due to the technological protection measures installed by the device manufacturer on the device. Continue reading Modchips now legal in the EU (as long as they’re not naughty)
This blog (and Gamer/Law generally) represents my personal views, not that of my employer.
The games press and sections of the games community has got hot under the collar (again) over trademark law. This time around, it’s about news that King.com, maker of Candy Crush Saga and other games, is seeking to trademark ‘Candy’. Cue lots of (to put it charitably) loose talk about ‘monopolies’ and even ‘patent trolling’. I’m going to try and talk some sense about this topic. Continue reading Some thoughts on game trademarks, King and Candy Crush