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I am about to start a project with two other developers and an artist, who I still haven't found. I'm not sure how exactly should we handle that from a legal perspective, though.

Are we supposed to sign a contract? What should be stated in such a document?

The game will most likely be free.

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A contract? I guess it depends of what you want to do with your game. If it's not in a profit purpose i don't see why i contract would be needed. Just find your two developers and your artist and make a game, na? – nathan Nov 8 '12 at 12:20
We registered a new company of which we have shares and then signed over all IP to that company. This gave us flexibility to sell or add adverts etc to games we make later with no further work. – OriginalDaemon Nov 8 '12 at 14:35
Why can't you create a company? (And put the answer in the question, not at the end of a list of comments where no-one will see it). – Peter Taylor Nov 8 '12 at 18:35
@Bane is this actually a non-profit game development team or is that an invalid edit? – Byte56 Dec 4 '12 at 19:35
Sure thing. I was wondering where that was coming from. Since even if the game was free, it still might have other revenue options. – Byte56 Dec 4 '12 at 22:01
up vote 2 down vote accepted

When it's not for profit, you could agree to share your work under the terms of an open source license (Yes, Mr. Stallman, I know that the term open source is missing the point). Should you ever decide to split up, each of you will have the rights to the full project and can decide to continue development independently, with or without help from additional people.

When you want to make sure that none of you ever monetizes the game without permission of the others, you could use CC-BY-NC. That way you all can can use it, just not for making money.

When you want to allow each other to try to make money with it independently but you don't want them to obtain exclusive copyright, you could use the GNU General Public License. This, however, will also give end-users the right to use and modify your work.

Another option would be the BSD license. It doesn't force you to give rights to the end users. But it also doesn't prevent anyone of you to fork the project and keep exclusive copyright to the modifications he does after leaving you.

Using a free software license will also make it easier for you to find contributors who don't have financial interests. Many hobbyists (me included) would rather contribute to a project under a stock open source license than one where the copyright situation is unclear and you risk getting exploited for profit.

Or you can just roll your own license agreement. Just make sure that you agree how you want to handle copyright when one of you wants to continue without each other due to creative differences and how to handle any profits and losses. Just a hint: Do not agree on splitting profits evenly. You will soon realize that you all invest different amounts of time and energy into the project. For those of you who feel that they did more than the others, an even split will soon feel very unfair.

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The game being free does not mean it's a non-profit company, nor does it mean it will be open source. – Byte56 Dec 4 '12 at 15:18

I think that if you're planning to sell this(or use it as a professional project) , then a contract would be appropriate, where as if it's just for fun, then a contract is overboard. if you get a contract, be sure to have it looked over by a lawyer as to patch up all the loopholes. If you really don't want it distributed, but aren't creating it as a professional project, a friendly agreement should be enough.

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I recommend a contract regardless of what you're doing. If it's not for profit, a simpler one will work, as "spirit of the agreement" can be important in civil trials.

I am not a lawyer, and this does not constitute proper legal advice. It is only my opinion, and you should check local laws.

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Free game doesn't mean not for profit. – Byte56 Dec 4 '12 at 15:20
Where in my answer does it say free = not for profit? I said IF it's not for profit, I would be comfortable with a looser agreement. The question does not specify whether or not it is for profit. – Almo Dec 4 '12 at 16:12
Right, it doesn't specify, so I don't see any reason to assume that. You're implying free == not for profit by making that assumption. Basically your answer is that you recommend using a contract. Then you delve into hypothetical situations. – Byte56 Dec 4 '12 at 16:17
This is why my answer says "Use a contract. If it's not for profit, it doesn't have to be as tight." I don't see a problem. – Almo Dec 4 '12 at 16:18
I was just pointing out that you appeared to be making an incorrect assumption. It's clear now that it's just an odd assumption, since there's no evidence of not for profit. No problem. – Byte56 Dec 4 '12 at 16:22

Free or not, it's better to have some contract than none at all, particularly if people aren't going to kick up a fuss about it (and they shouldn't, if it's fair). Even for free product projects, it serves to restrict people from going off with all your assets, or half your code, for example.

In fact, that would be my major concern if I were in your shoes: How do I set up an environment that is conducive to people sticking around through the lifetime of the project; or, if they don't/can't, how can we mitigate the impact of that (eg. do we get to keep, or at least maintain rights to to use, their code or assets)?

You should perhaps also cover what people give up if they voluntarily leave the project, vs. if they have no choice (depending on how much knowledge of that you can realistically have; it's hard to tell if a remote team member is actually suffering through eg. a divorce or if they just decided to drop your project in favour of something that looked more enjoyable to them).

A couple of excellent books on this topic are:

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