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As a indie, you might not work in a company. And you may have a great game idea and you feel it gonna be a big success. When you released your game. How do you protect it as your own creation? So that someone also can't steal the title and publish a "sequel" e.g. Your-Game-Name 2,3,4. Or even produce by-products like Angry Birds but without your permission.

So how we can prevent these from happening by legal methods. Like copyrights, trademarks? If a professional can fill us those info, it will be great.

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possible duplicate of How to protect a developed game? –  bummzack Jun 5 '12 at 7:53
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I wish I still had the link but there was a game developer talking about how to pitch a game successfully. One of the first things he says is: don't try to protect your game ideas because nobody's going to steal them. They're not worth anything since any game designer probably has five good game ideas already (so each company has a LOT of ideas they could go with before they worry about stealing yours), and they don't want to risk it anyway. His company dumps unsolicited game design docs in the trash without reading them because they don't want to risk getting sued over copyright infringement. –  Jonathan Hobbs Jun 5 '12 at 8:03
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@Jonathan Hobbs I don't agree. Your game might stand out one day, and when that day comes you have to be prepared. –  user16829 Jun 5 '12 at 8:51
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If your game is successful enough to truly have to worry about this, you'll likely have the financial resources to battle those threats. It all comes down to money. Even with patents, there's no reason to get one unless you have the money/lawyers to defend it. –  Byte56 Jun 5 '12 at 14:56
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Specifically on this issue: Zynga's business model is actually based on copying games completely illegally then settling the inevitable lawsuits out of court with each party going their own way (and Zynga earning more money than the lawsuit cost them). I am not even making this up. –  Jonathan Hobbs Jun 6 '12 at 13:32
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7 Answers 7

In 1605, Miguel de Cervantes published a book, "The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha" (now typically known simply as "Don Quixote"). It was (and remains to this day) quite popular.

In 1614, an anonymous other author published a book, "Second Volume of the Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha", without permission. Cervantes was quite upset, particularly with the portrayal his characters received in this book.

Of course, our modern Copyright laws didn't arrive until the 18th century. And even now, the usage of other people's characters in an original work is a bit murky, particularly when their core qualities are changed. So Cervantes couldn't make a legal challenge on the basis of copyright, the way that we can today.

Instead, Cervantes published his own sequel in 1615 (now typically printed together with the original book), in which miscreants unknown are alleged to have travelled around the country, pretending to be the book's chief protagonists, Don Quixote and Sancho Panza (thus explaining their uncharacteristic behaviours described in the unauthorised book).

To stop future authors from producing further derivative works using his characters, Cervantes has Don Quixote die at the end of the second book, and informs readers that since Don Quixote is now dead, any Don Quixotes which may appear in further books must therefore be fraudulent ones.

....so you could always do that. :)

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(Is it wrong that I seriously worried about whether I should put 'spoiler' tags around a plot point from a book written in 1615? Eventually decided against the tags, since the plot point is called out in the book's forward. Still feels weird, though.) –  Trevor Powell Nov 30 '12 at 1:52
    
People have yelled at me for spoiling the "Inferno" stanza of The Divine Comedy, in regard to a game I have yet to play, and likewise for ruining "Clash of the Titans", a bad remake of a cheesy film, filled with 3000 year old lore... I don't know why people expect these things to be new and shocking -- people seem more concerned with protecting ideas than actually fostering good ideas. –  Norguard Nov 30 '12 at 5:44
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Honestly, I never got the whole "don't spoil plots" thing. Like the plot is the only part of a work that contributes to its quality... I mean, I knew what the general plot of The Comedy was long before actually reading any of it, and it certainly wasn't "spoiled". Also, thank you for this great post, I was just supposed to read Don Quixote for school, now I have something interesting to add to my report. –  jco Nov 30 '12 at 14:20
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While this post is certainly entertaining, it also ignores the rights granted to original creators during 400 years of copyright and trademark laws. –  Philipp Dec 1 '12 at 11:58
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@Philipp It doesn't ignore them, it points them out right there in the third paragraph, and explains why they weren't applicable in this situation (i.e.: because they didn't exist yet). –  Trevor Powell Dec 1 '12 at 13:44
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I believe a copyright would be helpful, but you have intellectual rights to begin with, getting a registered trademark or trademark on the game name would also help protect from people using the name for "Sequels".

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I can't believe that this is the only post which mentions the simple act of "register a trademark" and it isn't the top one. –  Philipp Dec 1 '12 at 11:54
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The best way to protect your intellectual property from others is to register the name of your game as a trademark.

Trademarks are usually registered for a specific product category. So when you register "Awesomequest" as a game name, you can challenge anyone who makes an "Awesomequest 2" game for being too close to your trademark, but not someone who makes an "Awesomequest" toothbrush, because it's in a different product category and thus unlike to be mistaken for being connected to your product. You can register your trademark for multiple product categories when you want, but this costs extra and is usually unnecessary unless your get as super-successful as Angry Birds so that your game name can be used to sell just about anything.

But this still doesn't prevent people to create a sequel to your game under a completely different name. See, for example, the remake of Star Control II, which is identical to the original in almost every aspect (which is OK because they have the rights to the original game code and assets), but which has to be named "The Ur-Quan Masters", because they don't own the trademark.

As an additional protection you could consider to also register trademarks for certain other intellectual properties of your game, like the names of character, locations, plot devices or factions. You can also register image-trademarks on your game logo, the likeliness of your characters or other iconic assets of your game. But registering just about everything as a trademark can get too expensive for the budget of an independent game and is usually only worth it for the big companies.

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I may be here to learn about Game Dev, but I do know something about legal issues! :-)

As it's creator, from the moment of creation you're protected under the U.S. Copyright code! See § 104 of the code. When you publish it, however, you must make sure you or one of the other "authors" are a national or domiciliary of the United States, or is a national, domiciliary, or sovereign authority of a treaty party

If you need to sue, however, you'll need to

  1. Prove you're the author
  2. Register with the copyright office

As long as you can prove it is yours --i.e. mail the concept with examples to yourself with postal reciept and don't open it-- you're fine until you need to sue!

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'Mail with postal receipt and don't open' is a notoriously miserable means for trying to prove ownership. See, for instance, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poor_man%27s_copyright and copyright.gov/help/faq/faq-general.html –  Steven Stadnicki Dec 1 '12 at 19:30
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It's like Lauryn Hill said

Everything you did has already been done

Although 'L is talking about hip hop music here, her point is the same for any creative discipline.

If you look far enough you will find pretty much every element of the game you create, in some other game, somewhere else, perhaps made 20 years ago. You might have only played it once, and not even realize you're completely copying another game's mechanic in the 3 months you spend developing your game.

Some games creators even cite their influences openly, like Binding of Isaac creator said he was out to create a Zelda-1-like dungeon game. And that's exactly what he did.

As has been hammered again and again, it's not about ideas, ideas are a cent each. It's about successful execution of your game idea.

If you deliver a successful incarnation of your idea, people will play your game, talk about it, and it will be recognized.

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Possibly the best way to protect your work from being copied is to make it so unique that nobody could copy it without it being very clear that they have based the work on your own. This maxim applies to all forms of legal protection and also as a general discouragement to others.

Regarding formal legal methods:

  • Copyright is normally granted to your work automatically, but check your local laws. This doesn't protect concepts, only the final product, large bodies of text within, specific images, etc. This stops people using your graphics, sounds, etc., except where law provides exceptions (eg. for review purposes, criticism, parody, etc.)
  • Patents are rarely applicable to games, but sometimes can apply to interface methods or occasionally game mechanics. Some jurisdictions won't even recognise them. This avenue is rarely worth looking at for an indie developer.
  • Trademarks protect names and logos and the like within a certain industry, to stop other companies from pretending to make your goods. This is what would stop someone making a sequel to your game under the same name. It is worth seeking a trademark if you think your title is a big selling point but this is rarely a problem in indie game development.
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Do not protect it, as an indie you want your game to be played by everyone to make if popular. After that you can think about these things for the second one. So if another make a sequel it is a good chance to take some articles talking about you and your game

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This answer seems to be interpret "protection" as "copy protection/DRM" and even worse, promote piracy. The question is about trademarks, copyright and other Fun Legal Stuff. –  Lars Viklund Nov 30 '12 at 13:34
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