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Boundaries of copyrights in game design


Naticus

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I haven't seen a really good thread discussing copyrights and game design so I'll kick this one off for a casual discussion on the topic. There are some general questions I have regarding making maps or mods for commercial games.

I think it is pretty clear that you cannot create and sell a game that contains copyrighted material without first obtaining or buying the rights to use such material. But what about the the average level designer who makes, for example, Counter Strike maps. Is he also bound by the same copyright law? Can he freely make maps with copyrighted material because he will never be making any money off of it? Is he still bound by copyrights but the copyright owners and gaming community don't really care if they are violated? Does the type of copyright matter?

Here are some examples of copyrighted material that might be used and have been used in creating levels:

Photos / Textures

Music

Art

Architecture

TV and Movies

Other copyrighted games

Which of these can the non-commercial level designer freely use and to what extent? Does the scope of use matter? If a designer's goal is to create a popular map that could be played on servers everywhere, what advice would you give as far as copyrights go?

It seems clear to me the game design community is self policing in a way. This is very true with unauthorized use of textures, models and other game elements which are taken from others. Does the gaming community look down on or care about the use of copyrighted material taken from main stream media? Just curious to hear the opinions more than anything.

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Technically you can't use any because you don't have the right to copy (hence copyright). Even if it's non commercial, using somebody else's copyrighted work usually goes down some bad paths.

photos/textures: there are so many free ones out there, why steal.

music: there's a suprisingly large amount available under the GPL for free use

art: sometimes you can get away with very small scale reproductions as long as it's used in a way that makes it obvious it's not yours (displaying it in a frame, for instance).

architecture: you're free to emulate architecture as much as you want. You're not directly reproducing their work, just making a rough copy

tv and movies: stay away, stay away , stay away. so many tv shows and movies have deals for "interactive media" in place, and studios are very happy to sent C&D letters and take people to court.

other games: see tv and movies. don't mess with people with deep pockets and lawyers on retainer.

For small thing like borrowed art (from a person, not a different game), it's best to just ask beforehand. Assuming the work in question isn't faamous and the person isn't a dick, they'll usually be flattered as long as your give them credit for their work.

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Technically you can't use any because you don't have the right to copy (hence copyright). Even if it's non commercial, using somebody else's copyrighted work usually goes down some bad paths.

tv and movies: stay away, stay away , stay away. so many tv shows and movies have deals for "interactive media" in place, and studios are very happy to sent C&D letters and take people to court.

other games: see tv and movies. don't mess with people with deep pockets and lawyers on retainer.

This makes sense to me, but is there really any company or watch dog that issues cease and desist letters to level designers? Have you ever heard of anyone having to pull their level due to copyright violations?

There are some pretty well know levels that have used tv or movies as the basis. De_simpsons comes to mind. There have also been some pretty good looking Matrix levels that I can recall. I'm sure that everyone here can think of a few. I suppose my point is do the mega entertainment corps really care about "home made" levels? Does the gaming community care about those corporation's copyrights being violated?

As for music, something I haven't seen is the equivalent of a level designed to a song, sort of like a gaming music video. For example, take your favorite rock song and imagine pacing a level to it with the level of enemy attacks based on the parts of the song. Just have something that compels the player to move through the level at a certain rate to reach the end of the level by the end of the song. But I digress.... This seems easy enough to do but I can't say I've seen it done. Is this because of song copyrights? Are level designers respecting that boundry by not including copyrighted soundtracks?

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Copyrighted soundtracks get used alot by those frag/clan video things, but I don't know why level designers don't do the same.

YouTube has been on record saying that they remove a few hundred videos a day because of musical infringement. It's a matter of what the copyright holder cares about. Most don't give a damn about fan videos and don't want to waste the time and money to stop them. But to put a song in a level would mean you're distributing all or part of that song as a unique file outside of the bsp. That get's into some really sticky issues. I don't know of any levels that have done it, but there have been mods that use msucial tracks that broke copyright and were pulled. Scope of distribution, accessibility of the file, and relative content would be keep points in any civil case, so they're probably the factors any lawyer would be going after these things with.

Generally, I think the reason you don't see much of this is because Fox took down the Aliens mod for Quake so easily (and later the Simpsons mod). That set down a pretty solid line for the community to be able to say "don't cross this line." Most developers have been smart enough to stay away from the line. The few that don't usually get nailed with a C&D letter at some point or another (Stargate, DBZ, Pokemon, Die Hard, etc), which means every year or so we get just enough negative reinforcement as a community to know not to cross the line.

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Actually, this is interesting. I thought the topic would be more to do with copyrighting 'concepts'... I remember Randy "Randy" Pitchford saying something about sending the lawyers after anyone who tried to copy BiA's fix, flank, fire gameplay, and remember thinking 'how are they going to enforce that?' - anyone [from GBX] know if that's still ready to be enforced or how it would in theory be enforced? Surely you could then copyright movie and book "ideas"?

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Use of intellectual property is interesting stuff. I remember there was a law suit between Microsoft and “Lindows”, a Linux based OS that was very similar to windows. The issue in that case was whether the concept of a windows style OS could be copyrighted at all. Can’t remember how that one turned out. I think Lidows was forced to give up that name due to a trademark decision. I’m not sure what it goes by now.

I get the general impression that it is in the mappers best interest to steer clear of copyrighted material for any project. I stay away from protected material because I don’t want my hard work to go to waste. If I made something really impressive from protected material and could not use it for anything outside of my own viewing, there would not be much satisfaction. There are some who will say that mapping done with copyrighted material could be reserved for a portfolio. Is it possible that including work like that in your portfolio could hurt rather than help? Would an employer look at the portfolio in a negative light due to the copyrighted content?

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I've used plenty of textures from other games as bases to help form new ones, by the time I'm done with them they look completely different. Same goes for skins, sometimes it's not possible to create everything from scratch and shortcuts have to be made.

I've mixed and matched sounds from loads of different games before too, I know there's a lot of free maps/mods out there that use plenty of sounds from commercial games (ie Poke 646 uses a lot of Kingpin sounds). I think so long as you're not directly ripping off content (ie cloning it for the same design purpose) you're ok and of course if the developers don't come knocking on your door :P

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