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Can I make a game that uses the assets of another game on the users' computer, without legal issues? For example, I make a game that requires the user have game X installed, and I use the assets of game X in my game. The assets of game X would not be distributed with my game.

I realize it will be hard for companies to check, but can you use the assets for other purposes than originally intended (playing the original game)?

As a more concrete example, is playing a game like OpenXcom really legal, when you own the original game?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Playing is always legal. Copyright is all about distribution. \$\endgroup\$ – Philipp Oct 16 '13 at 13:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ Possible duplicate: Will there be legal issues in using cracked assets for internal development? \$\endgroup\$ – MichaelHouse Oct 16 '13 at 13:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Byte56 I don't believe that's a duplicate. This question is about distributing something that uses copyrighted assets, without distributing those assets. \$\endgroup\$ – Nico Oct 16 '13 at 13:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ You might want to look up the legality of game modding and unofficial expansions like Hellfire for Diablo. \$\endgroup\$ – DampeS8N Oct 16 '13 at 18:28
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Copyright is about copying, not only distribution. Courts have ruled that even loading a program into memory is copying and subject to limitations on copyright.

IANAL but I think you would probably be OK, although it is a murky situation. By requiring the other game to be present you are in essence creating a derivative work containing your code and the assets of the other game. Could you create your own assets (single color textures, empty maps, whatever) and allow the user to select different assets when running the game? If your game requires someone else's copyrighted assets to function at all then an argument could be made that it is a derivative work.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ This is a very interesting angle. \$\endgroup\$ – Marcks Thomas Oct 16 '13 at 22:18
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Copyright is only about distribution, not about use.

When you obtained copyrighted content, you are free to do whatever you want with it, as long as you don't give it away to others.

Also, when you obtain copyrighted content from somewhere, you aren't violating the copyright. The violation is committed by the person who distributes the content without permission.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I agree with your basic assessment, but I don't think it's as clear cut as that in practice. Say, for example, EA decided to release a game that would use assets from StarCraft if you have it installed. Don't you think Blizzard would object? Another issue is that having copyrighted content in your posession doesn't make it yours, just like having posession of a car doesn't make it yours. What you obtain is a license to use the content, and that license could come with limitations on how you can use it. Right? \$\endgroup\$ – Nico Oct 16 '13 at 14:06
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Nico: It's a complicated matter. Whether you own a copy or have a licence to use it has to do with (the exhaustion of) copyright, property law, consumer protection rights, the applicability of terms and conditions; waters made extra murky by the often intentional misuse of the term 'intellectual property' to describe rights that are actually not properties at all. Brought as the absolute truth in isolation, I'd argue 'you don't own, you get a licence' is a myth, but context is everything. Confined to generalities, the first line of this answer is right on the money, in my opinion. \$\endgroup\$ – Marcks Thomas Oct 16 '13 at 21:50

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