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We all know that each game has elements from another game but when does one cross the line of copyright? I have a view particular questions about this since this "line" is very vague.

  1. While looking for a name and Googling it usually return some kind of old or unknown game already with the exact same name. Can i use this name? And what about a name like Diablo, since Diablo is the commonly used name for the devil there cannot be a patent on this afaik. So would a different kind of game named Diablo be allowed?

  2. Let's say i want to make a game of mechs like in Mechwarrior. Obviously the mech designs have copyright, the name as well since i suppose. But am i crossing any rights if i make a top down tactical squad game that include mechs of different designs/names and call it Clash of Steel?

I understand there are not much lawyers here, but how could anyone create a game these days that does not cross the lines of copyright. Like the Mechwarrior example, there are plenty of games nowadays even movies that use this concept. For what it matters Mechwarrior could have ripped the idea from the Gundam anime series. With so many titles coming out each week including the indies it is next to impossible not to infringe into someone copyright.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ The Battletech franchise did in fact borrow some of their mech designs from various Anime (although Gundam wasn't among them), But they paid for it. Unfortunately they paid the wrong people who didn't actually had the copyrights themself. More information about that on sarna.net/wiki/Unseen \$\endgroup\$ – Philipp Apr 11 '14 at 8:47
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Regarding using names

When one releases a game commercially, they usually register a trademark for that name and product category. When one registers a trademark, nobody else may use that name for their product, when that product falls into the same product category. You can use the patent trademark database of the US patent and trademark office to check if the name you want to use is trademarked or not. The name "Diablo", for example, is such a registred trademark.

But note that unregistred trademarks also enjoy some protection. The usual rationale here is that you must not name a product in a way which makes it appear as if it would be associated to the product of someone else.

Let's say I would create a really crappy game and sell it under the name "Diablo IV". I would immediately benefit from the notoriety of the franchise and my game would sell copies no matter how crappy it is, just because of the "Diablo" name. But Blizzard Entertainment would certainly not like that my game hurts the reputation of their franchise. After people saw my game, their believe in the Diablo franchise would be shattered. They would never again buy a game with the "Diablo" name just based on the reputation. That would cause a tangible financial damage to Blizzard Entertainment for which they could sue me. The next day I would have a cease-and-desist letter in my mailbox.

Regarding copying game concepts:

There is no business where people copy as much from each other conceptually as in game development. The gameplay of every first person shooter ever can be traced back to Doom, and that of every real-time strategy game back to Dune II.

There are certain companies which build their whole business model on cloning other peoples games. But note that when you clone the game of a big-player too accurately who has the money to go through with a lawsuit, this might backfire.

The line between "inspired by" and "ripped of from" is unfortunately very blurry. Whether your game is too close to another game that it infringes copyright or not is a decision a court has to make in each individual case.

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Concepts are not copyright, assets are. Names are also not copyright, but they can be trademarked. Logos are copyright.

In the U.S., you don't have to apply for copyright, it is implicit when you create content. You can make whatever you want as long as you are not copying assets or infringing upon trademarks.

You can rip as many ideas as you like. Ideas are not protected.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ A particular drawing of a logo is copyrighted. Logos can actually be trademarked as well. \$\endgroup\$ – uliwitness Sep 6 '15 at 0:40

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