I am in the process of writing a game and I'm wondering what the copyright laws about publishing this game are.

I do not (for now) intend to make money from this. The beginning of my code contains a comment with # Copyright 2013, Collin Norwood, but is that legally valid? Do I have to apply with some government for a trademark or such?

  • \$\begingroup\$ What do you want to protect? To my understanding, this determines what you have to do: Copyright means others may not copy it. Trademark means others can't make something with the same name or branding. Patent means others cannot make anything that does the same thing. \$\endgroup\$ – Anko May 3 '13 at 21:48
  • 5
    \$\begingroup\$ Well man, you're infringing on Square Soft's rights (Final Fantasy 1) with your background graphic \$\endgroup\$ – bobobobo May 3 '13 at 21:48

(Stock caveat: I Am Not A Lawyer and this should not be construed as specific legal advice.)

If all you're concerned about is that your work is copyrighted to you, then you're in luck - that happens automatically upon creation of the work, and no explicit copyright mark is needed.

On the other hand, if you're concerned about the prospect of people infringing on your game's copyrights (and you're in the US - other agencies will be appropriate for different countries, of course), then probably the simplest route to take is registering your copyright via the US federal government's Electronic Copyright Office; this provides all the benefits of classic 'paper' registration for a relatively nominal fee (it looks like $35). This allows several benefits over the implicit copyright that's automatically granted to your work; for instance, you must register a copyright on your work before you can file a suit for infringement (though note that you don't have to register before learning of the infringement!), and having registered in advance of any suit both provides prima facie evidence of your copyright's validity and allows you to recover attorney's fees and statutory damages for the infringement. (For more details on this, I recommend ask.com's page on copyrights or the SFWA page on the benefits of copyright registration)

If you're very concerned about people infringing on your IP rights, or you want protections beyond just basic registered copyright protection (e.g. trademarks on certain expression elements or on a logo, etc), then the answer starts with 'Find An Intellectual Property Lawyer' — they'll be much more competent to advise you than anyone else here.

Separate from both of these matters, of course, is the issue of how much you should be concerned with copyright protection right now. I won't tell you not to be worried; that's an issue you can only resolve for yourself. But I will say that my gut instinct is that you should be much more worried with making your game first; having to be actively worried about people stealing your code falls into the Nice Problem To Have category. That's not to say that you won't have it eventually — just that IMHO it should be quite a ways down your list of concerns.

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ The simplest route would be to do nothing, as Copyright is in effect upon realization of the work. The next simplest route would be registering with the government/authorities in question. \$\endgroup\$ – Attackfarm May 4 '13 at 4:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ Would whoever downvoted care to explain the reason behind it? \$\endgroup\$ – Steven Stadnicki May 5 '13 at 5:04
  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 to make up for someone's innappropriate downvote on a good answer I should have remembered to up-vote in the first place. It also deserves an up vote for bringing the actual situation into perspective for the OP (concerning priorities) \$\endgroup\$ – Attackfarm May 5 '13 at 5:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ I'll gladly defend my downvote. As per a wide variety of international treaties, the answer to this question that applies almost everywhere in the world is 'nothing at all'; works are automatically protected by copyright. In my opinion, while this answer provides some useful general advice, it addresses the core of the question incorrectly. \$\endgroup\$ – Marcks Thomas May 5 '13 at 23:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ @MarcksThomas Thank you for speaking up! It's true that copyright automatically applies, and I should have noted that; but it's also true that registered copyrights are much easier to defend, which is really what I meant by the first paragraph - but not what I said. I'll revise this shortly to try and clarify the distinction a bit. \$\endgroup\$ – Steven Stadnicki May 6 '13 at 2:30

As long as you can prove ownership you're protected by copyright laws. (I.E. My work showed up on my portfolio site, before anyone else used it.) Of course, it is always a good idea to put copyright information on all work to remind people to contact you if they want to use it in any form.


Nothing is required to enact copyright over a work. That includes placing "Copyright" on the work in question. However, the more steps you take to formalize your copyright, the easier it will be to defend.

In order of easier to harder (and more expensive)

But, again, nothing is actually necessary to have legal copyright on any given work. One note, however, is that one cannot copyright ideas or methods (for example, the general design of a game or a method of enacting a mechanic).


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.