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Apologies if there's a bit too much background information here, not sure what's relevant but figured I needed to outline the financial situation to differentiate this from other questions whose answers aren't applicable here.

I'm making an indie game, to be sold online (ie, to any country that can use PayPal). My current situation is underemployed - unable to find enough work to make ends meet over the last couple of years, I'm now looking to use some of that free time to top up my income by making a little extra money from my hobby. Primarily, I look at is as art rather than a business, but with cash flow and employment prospects limited, I need to make a little money.

My question is what should I do about the legal problems that can arise out of selling a game? I've read up general advice on small businesses, so I should be fine with the usual issues like copyright, limited liability and tax - it's game development specific ones that worry me. I've also checked the licenses of any libraries used thoroughly (it's all open stuff anyhow).

Software patents are currently scaring the hell out of me - they might not be legal in my country, but if I'm going to get any sales at all with my small scale project I'm going to have to cast a broad net. As far as I understand, there are so many and so broad or poorly defined, that I can't in practical terms make a game without violating them in at least some countries. The other thing that bothers me is if there's legal issues I've never heard of and wont hear of until I get a nasty letter threatening to take everything.

I've obviously searched for related questions here and elsewhere, but had no luck - the answers always seem to say either consult a lawyer, or buy expensive legal reference materials - whilst well intentioned, given the financial situation outlined above, well this advice isn't really applicable. I have no money, and the total amount I hope to make from this game is less than one hour of legal consultation. Given the amount of researched involved in patents, and the numerous jurisdictions that my sales might come from - well, I can't think of a way that sufficient help from a lawyer will ever be within my means.

So, given those considerations, can anyone suggest a sensible course of action for such a small scale business that'll prevent me from being shut down, and from losing my creative rights to the game the moment some large company with software patents decides to sue? And further, any other steps I need to take to protect myself against legal problems specific to this industry that general advice sites wouldn't cover?

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Every time you find a reason to tag a question with "legal", the only valid answer is "ask a lawyer" –  Philipp Mar 13 '13 at 15:34

1 Answer 1

up vote 16 down vote accepted
+500

Don't steal assets or code. For the technologies you are using, make sure you're complying with their terms. Avoid emulating other games. Use an original name and logo. Follow the terms of service on whatever channels you're selling the game through. Incorporate your game company and keep its financial assets separate from your own. Comply with the corporate requirements of the state in which you incorporate. Write your own copy for all marketing materials and in-game materials.

Most importantly, provided you're doing as mentioned so far, don't be paralyzed by fear of legal harassment from a third party. Having limited financial resources is usually a disadvantage, but from a legal perspective, it takes away the incentive to sue you. Lawyers call it "judgment proof," a nicer term for broke. If you start making enough money that someone thinks it worthwhile to bring a nuisance suit, you'll have the money to pay a lawyer to defend it.

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