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Copyright explainedSo you’ve got this great idea: world championship weightlifter Barry Hotter is approached by an enchanted dumbbell and invited to the magical Mugwart’s Academy for Jocks. There he learns ancient Tibetan psi-powers that help him lift weights with his mind, finds true love, and defends the world of non-weightlifters from the evil Lord Lift-a-Mort.

Question: should you expect a call from J.K. Rowling’s lawyers[note]Or, since Rowling’s a Britt, solicitors.[/note]?

That’s where copyright and intellectual property law comes into play.

An apology and a disclaimer: This post is way, way, longer than usual. I’m not a lawyer. You figure out which is the disclaimer.

I quite often come across questions on BoardGameGeek’s Board Game Design forum along the lines of “do I need a patent?”, “if I mail myself the game in a sealed envelope will that give me copyright?” and “can I copy a game?”. Here’s one recent example:

“Just How Different Does a Game Have to Be?”

So, like the subject asks: Just how different does a game have to be, for it to safely comply with intellectual laws? And as far as I’ve described, does it sound like my game is far enough from this book?

Answer #1: Which IP laws? They differ by country and sometimes by state as well.

Answer #2: Not very.

TLDR answer:

IP (Intellectual Property) laws come in three main flavors: (more…)

MicroWars - all graphics by me, or licensed.
MicroWars – all graphics by me, or licensed.

There’s an interesting discussion over in the Board Game Geek Board Game Designers Art & Graphics forum about whether it’s ethical to use someone else’s art in your prototypes.

It’s not legal, that’s fairly clear. Generally speaking you’re not allowed to use any part of someone else’s copyrighted works without explicit permission. But since copyright and IP law differs from country to country you’re operating in a gray area. For example in the US, where copyright law focuses almost solely on ownership and economic gain, you might get away with using someone else’s art as fair use. In Europe, in contract, you wouldn’t, no matter that you didn’t make any financial gain nor impacted on the artist’s financial gain. In Europe your copyright is protected no matter what and your right to be named the creator of the art is firm (although we don’t have quite as rabid copyright legislation nor as high punishments as in the States, but that’s changing).

But let’s talk about it in moral terms: is it right to take someone else’s creations in order to prettify our own?