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How closely can a game resemble another game without legal problems

Some questions about it:

  • If I create a funny version of a copyrighted game and sell it (crediting the original developers) would it be considered a parody or would I need to pay royalties?
  • If I create a game mod for my own personal use would it be legal? What if I gave it for free to a friend?
  • Is there a general rule about it or it depends on the developer will?

P.S.: I'm not talking about cloning games like this question. It's all about a game clearly based on another. Something like "GTA Gotham City" ;)

EDIT: This picture that I found over the internet illustrate what I'm talking about: GTA Superman

Just in case I was not clear:

  • I never created a mod game. I was just wondering if it would be legally possible before trying to do it.
  • I'm not apologizing piracy. I pay dearly for my games (you guys have no idea how expensive games are in Brazil due to taxes).
  • Once more I say that the question is not about cloning. Cloning is copy something and try to make your version look like a brand new product. Mods are intended to make reference to one or more of its source. I'm not sure if it can be done legally (if I knew I wasn't asking) but I'm sure this question is not a duplicate. Even so, I trust in the moderators and if they close my question I will not be offended - at least I had an opportunity to explain myself and got 1 good answer (by the time I write this, maybe some more will be given later).
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I think there are some differences you need to clarify. Is it a mod, or a whole new game? A mod would be taking GTA and changing the building and character textures to Gotham City related ones. Or are you talking about a game with similar (or identical) game mechanics as GTA, but with a Gotham City feel? IANAL but I think the latter would only be infringement if you used the names or likenesses of Batman/GTA elements. There are a number of 'adult' parodies of games out there that got around the legality of it all, but are clearly poking fun at the original. –  Orin MacGregor Oct 23 '12 at 18:35
    
It would not a whole new game. It would be taking GTA and changing the building and character textures to Gotham City related ones (in this example). –  Rodrigo Guedes Oct 23 '12 at 18:39
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@Byte56 I don't think it's a duplicate. As I said, is not about cloning. The question of your link is about creating a new game that resembles another one. That's not what I'm asking. –  Rodrigo Guedes Oct 23 '12 at 18:42
    
How would you go about making a funny version of a game or parody without making your game resemble the other one? Cloning is basing a new game on another, it's just not as imaginative. –  Byte56 Oct 23 '12 at 18:44
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I'm pretty sure there is no general rule and its different per country. Also we cant really give law advice here, because thats kinda tricky. –  Roy T. Oct 23 '12 at 19:00
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marked as duplicate by Byte56, Josh Petrie, Noctrine Oct 23 '12 at 23:51

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2 Answers

up vote 5 down vote accepted

When modding games, you'll be vulnerable to legal action from two places.

First, from the original game creators. I'm not sure how common this is now, but at one point making mods was against most EULA's because it required reverse engineering the game files. I'm sure there are plenty of games that still have this type of clause to try to combat hacks and cheats, however a lot of games encourage a limited form of modding by providing official tools to do so. IMO, modern gaming culture has adopted a general rule of thumb that as long as your mod is free and requires someone to own a working copy of the game, there's no real harm. In your example of GTA3, you should read the EULA that you agreed to and watch that specific modding community a bit to see what mods have been already made.

Secondly, IMO more probably, you might face legal action from the owners of the copyright on the characters/places/themes that you want to import into the game. There has been at least one recent example of a cease and desist letter sent to modders because they were using copyright content. In your example, the owner would be DC Comics. Satires/parodies often have a lawyer on staff and take care to scrub out every trademark or direct reference to the material they're covering.

To sum up: Selling a mod will probably get you in trouble. Distributing mods to your friends will probably get you in trouble if you're using themes that are copyright or trademark. The general rule is to ask a lawyer (I am not one, the internet doesn't count either).

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In some countries (including the US now), modifying an exe for personal reasons is allowed, and the law trumps anything in a EULA. So making mods for personal use is generally fine, releasing it might depend on the game though. –  Programmdude Jan 19 at 13:07
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Generally speaking, parody is protected under Fair Use if you are not selling it. Many game engines, such as Unreal, Source, and others, allow and encourage game modding that uses their assets and characters that you can freely distribute but not sell.

I do not thing there are any cases where you can sell a mod and not be under fire for copyright violation, as you are competing with the creators of the original game.

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Note that parody is a very specific thing. Putting Gotham City characters into GTA would not qualify as parody. –  Trevor Powell Oct 23 '12 at 23:24
    
@TrevorPowell Indeed. That was just a mere example. –  Rodrigo Guedes Oct 23 '12 at 23:25
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