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How do people get away with copying games?

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I was reading through different games and I came across numerous trivia games that straight up copy Trivia Pursuit but just change the catagories. Here are two links:

How do they get away with it?

Joined: 12/31/1969
How do people get away with copying games?

How do they get away with it? Simple. You can not patent or copyright the idea of a trivia game. You can not patent or copyright the roll-and-move mechanic. You can not patent or copyright the idea of collecting chips in different colors.

Now, if you combine all those elements into the same game, add a "spokeswheel" board and six different categories THEN you might have a problem. You also have a problem when you use images from Trivial Pursuit, and/or the exact same questions, because those are things that can actually be copyrighted.

However, if I read the descriptions of the entries on the BGG correctly there are differences between those games and Trivial Pursuit. The differences are marginal, but probably just enough to avoid legal trouble.

- René Wiersma

Johan's picture
Joined: 10/05/2008
How do people get away with copying games?


(Darkhorse will probably say that I have said these before and there are several threads in the forum with Copyright/Patent issues).

To answer the question: They get away with this because it's not the same games. It's similar games.
It is OK to create something that is slightly different from your idea. It's also legal to take several ideas and mix them together to a new product.

So the copyright is useless?
Not at all! Copyright is a realy strong protection. That is what will protect your game when you are testing the game with your group (they can't take the idea and make it there own) or trying to sell it to a game company. It is the same copyright law for games as it is for Music, Artwork and written texts (and the games are at least two of those).
The written game is yours and nobody can take that away from you. If you only sell license and not the royalty it will remain yours until 50 years after you are dead (at least here in Sweden, but the copyright law is international). Never sell the Idea, sell an exclusive license to the idea.

Is a patent better?
No. I know a lot of tricks to go around a patent and it is really easy. A patent is also only valid in one country (you have to apply in each contrey). A patent is also expensive.
Many people say that you can't have a patent on a game mechanism. That is not right. You can, but is has to be so unique that nobody has done it before. A patent will also (normally) be valid for around 10 years.
The main reason not to apply for a patent is that it will probably cost you several of times more that you can gain from the game. The copyright will cost you nothing.

Should you never apply for a patent?
There can be several reasons why you should.
- Even if you only apply (and don´t get the patent) the patent it will protect your game at least in 6 months (during the development).
- It will be published (nobody can question that the game is yours. GDW will do the same.
- It will be easer to sell so some companies or race money for your idea. A patent can be a "show of".

We can also see the problem with copyright the other way.
Diplomacy does not have exclusive right to intrigue games, Risk to strategic war-game, Clue to detective games or Tactics II to hex. TP do not have an exclusive right to quiz games. Hasbro tries to get an exclusive to CCG and rules printed on the cards, but I think they will lose (or it will only be valid in the US).

Your games are protected on GDW. It is published and nobody can take your game and publish it. It is still possible to take your ideas and use them for a base to make a new game. That is nothing strange about that.
I don't know how you get your ideas but I can be in a meeting, read a book, se something on the TV or reading the rules for a game, when I start to make a new game inside my head. It will be my idea and not the director of the TV program of the author of the book that owns what I just made.

Have I used anything from GDW?
I have to admit that I am guilty to that. When I trying to formulate an answer to GDW, several times I start to write an answer that makes it a complete different game. If I also change the theme you can never see what original game it is.

The game I will have in GDW next week (Feeeeed Meeeee) was originally one (of several) ideas I got when I read the rules for the Micro Game contest. I hope that XXOOCC not clams the ownership of this game. ;-)

// Johan

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