Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Game mechanics not protected under copyright law

Texas court affirms game mechanics not protected under copyright law.

This ruling is sure to be of interest to all tabletop games makers.
DaVinci had sued Ziko games over the game Legend of the Three Kingdoms, which both companies acknowledge is mechanically identical to DaVinici's board game Bang! The art and aesthetics of the two games differ, with Bang! taking on the iconography of the wild west and Legend of the Three Kingdoms borrowing from Chinese history. 
The court's ruling, which Strebeck has hosted on his own site, states that nothing about the mechanics of Bang! can not be considered "expressive," as they are rooted in widely familiar game concepts like health bars, punches, and kicks, while that the expressive elements of the game (its art and aesthetics) aren't substantially similar to Legend of the Three Kingdoms. 
There have been examples in tabletop games such as Monopoly clones, and of course CCG's that are all essentially clones, or close facsimiles, of Magic: the Gathering*. In the case of Monopoly Hasbro has been vigorous in defending the expressive aspects of Monopoly such as the look, trade dress, and characters, but not so successful in preventing mechanical clones. For example: Triopoly, Petsberry, and Cashpiracy. Granted, these games do add some mechanical variations and improvements, but the similarities are stronger than you'd think they could get away with.

With all the wrangling around what is protected under "OGL", what is "d20", what is this or that, I wander how much legal protection any game system actually has. The expression of the game, it's "world" and art, such as Dungeons & Dragon's Forgotten Realms, or Runequest's Glorantha, or Traveller's Charted Space, seems to be what is protected by international copyright laws.

The full article is here:  http://www.gamasutra.com/view/news/273935/Texas_court_affirms_game_mechanics_not_protected_under_copyright_law.php

Of additional interest, read the fascinating case of the battle for Anti-Monopoly.

Also related; according to the US Copyright Office in their publication on Games, fl-108, “Copyright does not protect the idea for a game” . . . “Once a game has been made public, nothing in the copyright law prevents others from developing another game based on similar principles.”

Here is a more detailed analysis by Zachary C. Strebeck, attorney at law (tip o' the hat to Sean Kelley)

*note that in the case of M:tG Wizards of the Coast got a patent on the core game mechanic. I don't know if they've exercised that in a legal case.

None of this is suggested to be legal advice of any sort, as I have no qualifications to give such advice, I'm merely passing along this info from other public sources.


  1. This leads to a question for me .. I noticed Warriors of the Red Planet was not published as an OGL Product. As I would be interested in possibly adding to the ruleset I wondered why that was?

    1. WotRP is OGL. It appears on some copies the last page, the one with the OGL text, got clipped off. I'm updating the files to make sure its there.

  2. WotC did sue Pokemon: http://www.bizjournals.com/seattle/stories/2003/10/13/story2.html

    Outcome: Pokemon pays WotC a percentage of every card they sell in the US.

    Quick tip: PATENT your game rules, because you cannot copyright them.

    1. The Pokemon/Wizard deal was overcontracted distribution agreeents. It was settled out of court.


    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Yyyyesss, but WotC did sue over patent infringement. It's widely believed PokemonUSA agreed to a small fee per collectible card pack; of course, the specifics are not available to anyone but the respective legal departments...

    1. Patents generally last for 20 years.

    2. The law suit was over a very wide range of issues and not solely a claim of patent violation. There were seeming violations of non-disclosure agreements, conflict over poaching of employees, mishandling of traded secrets and violations of distribution agreements because of the partnership the two firms had shared. It was not at it;s core about a patented game mechanic (notice other firms have trading card games and have not been sued).

    3. Really, JD? https://company.wizards.com/content/wizards-coast-files-complaint-against-cryptozoic-entertainment-and-hex-entertainment

      Although Thomas Denmark above is correct that it looks like the game design patent is finally expired.

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