Skip to Content

How close is too close?

7 replies [Last post]
Axe
Offline
Joined: 12/31/1969

Greetings,
How close can a game be made to an already existing game? My understanding is that the set of rules and formulations associated with any game are not copywritable only artwork and actual writing is (the rules etc.). For instance, it is my understanding that anyone could rewrite the game Monopoly in thier own words calling the streets and cards different names etc. and create their own pieces and artwork, but otherwise make the game an exact duplicate (just in the creators own words).

I believe this isn't normally done because there would be no economic reason to do so. However, we are interested in bringing back a game that no longer is in print, and that the owners of the copywrite have no interest in licencing etc. (as they are running later editions of this game).
Our objective is purely not-for-profit, and is related to our love for this particular game. It's not our intention to "steal" anything. Only to recreate something that was lost for the small number of people who still have interest in it; and to allow others to play it perhaps for the first time.

So: could I make a game thats designed to replicate the exact rules and similar look but with re-arranged rules in my own writing and with my own artwork that is similar. For example, could I create a game called Monopolizer, with different named streets, diff. looking pieces, diff. art etc. At what point is similar too similar.

Another example might be a painting. Surely one artist can copy another artists painting (say a landscape) but at some point the similarity would become to exact and at some point could be challanged in court.

Thanks! If you have any examples where such a contest in court took place please let me know.

Julius
Offline
Joined: 12/31/1969
How close is too close?

I am not a lawyer, but I can give this legal advice: Ask a lawyer.

The truth of the matter is, there are no hard-fast rules about it. Each case of copying another's product is handled individually. However, it boils down to whether an outsider would consider your game a knockoff. If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it's a duck. It doesn't matter that your duck has flippers instead of webbed feet.

I came across this problem in my fraternity. A few of us (who happened to be members) were having a party for someone's birthday. It wasn't technically a fraternity event because it wasn't on our events calendar, it was just a small word of mouth thing that a few of us participated in. Long story short, three noise complaints later, and an RA had campus public safety writing us up. What did it get written up as? A fraternity party (a few guys, myself included were wearing fraternity letters).

Fast forward to next week's meeting. Our advisor is curious as to why our fraternity party made it into the campus paper. We explain the situation honestly, but unfortunately his hands were tied (thanks to a nosy sorority). We ended up getting reported to national headquarters for risk management violations (group purchasing of alcohol where we should have followed byob guidelines, the quantity of alcohol at the event exceeded what we were allowed to have, there was hard alcohol involved, we didn't have guest list, etc.), and our chapter was fined for it. The fine came out of the pockets of those involved. We each paid $175.

So, we didn't do anything wrong legally - we were all over 21 - and if we hadn't had fraternity letters on, it would have been just another breakup of some students partying in a dorm room.

Moral of the story: you can cover your ass as much as you like, but if an outsider considers your game something that it 'technically' isn't, that doesn't matter one bit.

Axe
Offline
Joined: 12/31/1969
How close is too close?

Thanks Julius, I appreciate your response. If your interested the game in is here: http://www.knights-n-knaves.com/osric (just click on the OSRIC .03)

Its purpose is not really to be played but to give cover for those wanting to make new modules or supl. books for 1E AD&D (though it could easily be played). It was created with the OGL HASBRO/WOTC allows, and thus is similar in that respect. And it shares the same basic rules. However its presented in a completely different manner then 1E for the specific purpose of getting around being too "similar".

One would think thier would be plenty of case law concerning this issue, as I imagine it must come up alot (esp. with games).

I guess we'll have to wait and see what happens. I hope your "duck" analogy doesn't hold true, because it seems the right judge could call anything remotely similar "too" similar (even if all the individual parts are different). I guess a company can just threaten to take any threat to their IP to court and almost always win; and since almost every game concept known to man has been thought of in the past...it doesn't look good for the small guy (in the case of OSRIC doubly so as its not-for-profit).

Hedge-o-Matic
Hedge-o-Matic's picture
Offline
Joined: 07/30/2008
How close is too close?

What you're considering is also known as plagerism. This is an issue that gets little space in these forums, with all the hand-wringing regarding copyrights. But merely "saying things in your own words" isn't enough to protect you from the charge, and it is (or at least it used to be) a serious one. No copyright protections exist that can shield you from such accusations.

If you get "too close", it doesn't matter if their product is copyrighted, patented, trademarked, or none of the above. If the other party can demonstrate to your publisher or distributer that you've lifted significant work from them or others, it's a career killer.

My advice is: if you begin to worry about being too close to another game's rules, you're too close.

Axe
Offline
Joined: 12/31/1969
How close is too close?

To my knowledge there is no plagerism occuring in OSRIC. Anything that might be construed to be so is infact allowed through WOTC's OGL.
Remember also that the portions that are duplicated (not in the OGL) are not subject to copywrite law (mathematical formulations etc.).

Another question I have is this: if one company produces a product very similar to Game X for several years (and can prove that Game X owner was aware of its existance) does that in anyway give other companies the green light to do the same? Or does the owner of a copywrite have the right to pick and choose who can copy their product?

Anonymous
How close is too close?

Axe wrote:
To my knowledge there is no plagerism occuring in OSRIC. Anything that might be construed to be so is infact allowed through WOTC's OGL.
Remember also that the portions that are duplicated (not in the OGL) are not subject to copywrite law (mathematical formulations etc.).

The OGL says you need to "clearly indicate which portions of the work that you are distributing are Open Game Content."

I looked through osric.pdf and I don't think any of it is open game content... The OGL is included for no reason...

Quote:
Another question I have is this: if one company produces a product very similar to Game X for several years (and can prove that Game X owner was aware of its existance) does that in anyway give other companies the green light to do the same? Or does the owner of a copywrite have the right to pick and choose who can copy their product?

The word is "copyright"

I certainly hope a company can pick and choose who they sue.

Emphyrio
Emphyrio's picture
Offline
Joined: 02/10/2010
How close is too close?

Axe wrote:
To my knowledge there is no plagerism occuring in OSRIC. Anything that might be construed to be so is infact allowed through WOTC's OGL. Remember also that the portions that are duplicated (not in the OGL) are not subject to copywrite law (mathematical formulations etc.).

Another question I have is this: if one company produces a product very similar to Game X for several years (and can prove that Game X owner was aware of its existance) does that in anyway give other companies the green light to do the same? Or does the owner of a copywrite have the right to pick and choose who can copy their product?

I'm not familiar with the details of the OGL, but it was my impression it applies only to D&D 3rd edition, not to earlier editions. I think Kenzer & Company obtained a license for pre-3.0 D&D from WotC in order to publish Hackmaster, which is heavily based on that, though not a verbatim copy.

I believe in the case of trademarks, the trademark holder is responsible for pursuing violations, and if they fail to do so, it may weaken their rights to the trademark. However, I don't think this applies to copyright. The copyright holder can license the product to other parties of their choice.

BTW, the word is spelled "plagiarism" (also "existence").

Axe
Offline
Joined: 12/31/1969
How close is too close?

Thanks!

Their has been alot of discussion related to this subject lately at a few web sites which have answered many of my initial concerns. It seems HASBRO isn't really in the position to take legal action to stop OSRIC (the creator lives in England and feels 100% sure he'll win any legal battle. Apparently in England the looser pays the winners bills, and he has an attorney ready to take this case for free. So Hasbro won't be able to outspend him...which is nice. From what I've read, and from more detailed PMs with its creators It looks as if the product is safe to base modules on. Infact one publisher has: http://www.exp.citymax.com/f/XRP6100_Pod-Cavern_Cover.pdf

http://www.dragonsfoot.org/forums/viewtopic.php?t=18878&postdays=0&posto...

Here is a list of sites covering this topic in more detail then you'd probably like to see. Its interesting though, because many of the concerns Hasro will have are debated in detail.

Infact, this might be helpful to the general field of game creators having to worry about being too close to a game owned by a monster like Hasbro.
http://www.dragonsfoot.org/forums/viewtopic.php?t=18928
http://www.dragonsfoot.org/forums/viewtopic.php?t=18870
http://www.dragonsfoot.org/forums/viewtopic.php?
http://www.thedelversdungeon.com/forums/viewtopic.php?t=15&start=0

Sorry about the spelling, I'm dyslexic (well a similar LD), and I appreciate you pointing it out. Hopefully won't make those mistakes again anytime soon.

Syndicate content


forum | by Dr. Radut