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I don't know how to copyright a video game idea.

I don't know if I should make a game document and get that copyrighted first or make the game then copyright it.

The main gist is.. I am lost.

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closed as off-topic by congusbongus, Vaillancourt, sam hocevar, Josh Jan 15 '16 at 16:24

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    \$\begingroup\$ You don't copyright a video game idea. Make the game, release it, then make another one, better. You can copyright names, graphics (game characters and such), but you can't copyright ideas. Your assets are copyrighted anyways when you publish them, without even needing to do anything other than putting the (c) symbol. \$\endgroup\$ – Vaillancourt Jan 15 '16 at 2:50
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    \$\begingroup\$ Agreed with Alexandre Vaillancourt, don't worry about explicit IP protections right away unless you have an invention you're trying to patent. Anyone who's touched a game has dozens of ideas of their own - the hard part is actually making and selling them - so nobody is going to bother trying to copy your ideas, at least until you've made a playable game and proven it can be commercially successful. Even then, there's some, but rather little precedent for intellectual property rights over game concepts beyond the fiction, assets, and code that go into them. \$\endgroup\$ – DMGregory Jan 15 '16 at 3:01
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    \$\begingroup\$ Everyone overrates their ideas. Yes, you need a good idea to make a good game, but an idea by itself is worthless. It's the implementation of the idea which gives it value. Also, when someone else uses your idea, it doesn't lose any value. The first-to-market advantage in game development is minuscule. Just look at the thousands of first person shooters in the past 20 years which practically all just reuse the basic game idea of Doom. \$\endgroup\$ – Philipp Jan 15 '16 at 10:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ @AlexandreVaillancourt You don't even need the ⓒ-symbol: under the Berne Convention you automatically gain copyright when you create a work. The symbol is just a clarification. \$\endgroup\$ – Anko Jan 15 '16 at 15:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Anko you're absolutely right, I should have written that instead :) \$\endgroup\$ – Vaillancourt Jan 15 '16 at 15:09
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You're confusing patents, copyrights, and trademarks here.

Without going too deep into details:

  • Whatever you create, code, assets, or anything else, automatically has you as the copyright owner. No further actions required. It just has to require significant amount of work (depends on legislation). For example, you can't claim rights on blue rectangles, but a logo consisting of multiple rectangles.

  • Trademarks are protected logos, taglines, etc. Like patents, but not on ideas.

  • Patents are protected ideas, e.g. to prevent others from profiting off things you've put lots of time, money, and research into. Sometimes they're just trolling stuff though.

  • The copyright and trademark symbols, i.e. © and ™, are really just hints. The © informs people that your work is protected by copyright, and the ™ informs them that you are using a name or symbol as a trademark. Even without them, stuff is yours. It just makes it harder for others to claim they didn't know about these being your trademarks or property. (Some jurisdictions might require them, though.) In contrast, the ® symbol is restricted to trademarks which have been registered with a governmental trademark office. These trademarks have a greater degree of protection, since they've been reviewed and approved to determine that they're unique or distinctive.

So, if you write a game or story or whatever, you don't have to do anything. You might want to file a trademark with the title or main characters, but that's it. If you've got a new way to interact with the player or do something special, you might be able to patent it, but that's really on a very specific case by case basis.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Very good explained, have always wondered how this works. :) \$\endgroup\$ – BiiX Jan 15 '16 at 8:38
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    \$\begingroup\$ Agree that (C) and TM are hints, but disagree (R) is a hint, since it is the result of a procedure. \$\endgroup\$ – Mishax Jan 15 '16 at 14:59
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Usual disclaimer: I am not a lawyer and in this site questions about these issues have to be always taken as ideas, thoughts or experiences, never as technical advice.

That said, in the US you hardly would be able to copyright (or hold a patent over) a game idea in itself. Actually, the US Copyright office says that:

Copyright does not protect the idea for a game, its name or title, or the method or methods for playing it. Nor does copyright protect any idea, system, method, device, or trademark material involved in developing, merchandising, or playing a game. Once a game has been made public, nothing in the copyright law prevents others from developing another game based on similar principles. Copyright protects only the particular manner of an author’s expression in literary, artistic, or musical form.

Of course, this is a bit too vague. Consequently, the interpretations at the Courts have been diverging a bit. There is an excellent article on Gamasutra, from 2013, that discusses that: "Clone Wars: The Five Most Important Cases Every Game Developer Should Know". Still, it's quite the standard that game ideas are not patent-able per se.

What you might be able to do is:

1) to copyright specific code implementations that make your game unique/hard to copy (in case you happen to have implemented something unique in terms of coding, that is essential to your game). I say that because code can be copyrighted similarly to literary works, although there is also quite a debate on to which extent code can/should be patented.

Besides that, what you can surely do is:

2) trademark game titles, logos, characters, etc;

3) copyright the assets (art and sound) as audiovisual. Note of caution: while you don't have to copyright them because once you create those you own them, yes there are quite a few arguments in favor of specifically filing copyrights on them. For more on that, see the other question on this site: Questions on the legal protection of games and their parts (assets, sounds, title)).


Lastly, take a look at the article "Video Games and the law: Copyright, Trademark and Intellectual Property" for further detailing on the matters of game trademarking and copyrighting.

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    \$\begingroup\$ You automatically own all copyrights on work you create yourself. You don't have to "copyright" your work. \$\endgroup\$ – bummzack Jan 15 '16 at 9:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ @bummzack you automatically have the rights over your own work, but you can still file copyrights on them. But didn't I directly say exactly that, at the "Note of caution" part? Besides, note that I precisely intended to argue that while you don't have to formally file copyrights, there are reasons you should do it. I refer you to the discussion present in another question - the one I linked with that exact purpose in mind. \$\endgroup\$ – MAnd Jan 15 '16 at 9:59

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