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Question about copyright location.

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mindspike
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Joined: 09/06/2011

Sometime last night, in between the library, soccer practice, cub scouts, and McDonald's I managed to mail off the first beta kits for Atomic Earth 2.0. Shucks, now all that's left to do is wait for feedback... And then collate the feedback, implement suggestions, finalize graphic designs, write press releases, distribute press releases, promote the product by writing on blogs, forums, kickstarter, facebook, twitter.... All while staying within budget and on timeline. At some point I actually get to be creative again and live my dream job, right?

While doing some of that "being creative" stuff, I glanced at my son's Pokemon cards and noticed that every single one of them includes a copyright notice at the bottom of the card. Now, I'm not making a card game (although cards are a component), but it occurs to me that they do this for a reason. Just not sure what that reason is.

Is this a paranoid legalese thing? Is this because the cards are traded independently and not tied to the game? Is it necessary for me to include a similar copyright notice on all the printed components of my game? I was planning just to include the copyright and legalese on the instruction sheet and be done with it. Insights and suggestions? I sure would appreciate it.

ilta
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short answer: no

Blah blah I am not a lawyer blah blah internet legal advice blah blah.

That text is just a reminder to any would-be thieves. In the United States, a work is protected by copyright as soon as it's created. No notice needs to be given; the creation itself is proof.

Note that this only protects the expression of a work (text and images, for instance), not the ideas behind it -- you can't copyright ideas, but see below. So you could recreate Pokemon if you're able to do it without any of their rules text or images (or title!), and call it Tiny Fighter Animals or whatever.

So the point is, you're fine. Of course, there's technically nothing stopping anyone from coming out with Nuclear Earth 3.0 if they can do it without your text and images, and that's true no matter how many notices you plaster all over the rules, box, or components. It's a pretty dickish thing to do, though, and hobby gaming is too small for it to be worth the bad press.

Moving forward, and outside the scope of the question, any non-obvious invention that is sufficiently different from anything else on the market can be PATENTED, be it a new light-bulb, smartphone, or board game mechanic. How much does that cost? 5 to 10 thousand bucks in filing fees and attorney time, plus of course you have to defend your patents in court. Obviously this puts most patents well beyond the reach of game designers and pretty much all hobbyist publishers. For mainstream titles with millions of sales a patent is de rigeur, of course. For instance, the Pop-O-Matic in the classic kid's game Trouble is, I believe, protected by a patent owned by Hasbro. So nobody but Hasbro can build a plastic dome like that that rolls the dice in a board game. I believe the pie piece pawns from Trivial Pursuit are also patented.

Additionally, and again for a high price and even more post-release vigilance, unique game terms, including titles, can be TRADEMARKED. Examples include "tapping" to refer to a card in Magic: The Gathering being turned 90 degrees to indicate use. Other games can do the tilt thing, they just can't call it "tapping" in the rules (although invariably most players who grew up on Magic will do that anyway, much to WotC's annoyance). Again, not something for you to worry about.

There was a famous case a few years back that eventually led to Parker Brothers (more lately, Hasbro) owning the trademark for "Monopoly" in a game context, as well as subsidiary games like "Star Wars Monopoly", but not "-opoly" itself. Hence all the clones with names like "New Yorkopoly" and "Collegeopoly" and such. You'll note, if you care to compare, that they play exactly the same as Hasbro's Monopoly, but use none of the text on their board, cards, or rulebook.

Make sure you build enough time to really change your game based on response to the beta kits. It would stink to be locked into a release schedule and be unable to make changes.

And yes, the Pokemon cards are probably individually labeled so that if WotC (or Nintendo, or whoever owns the relevant copyright) takes someone to court for (allegedly) stealing their text or art, he can't say he didn't know who to contact because he just encountered the one card.

mindspike
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Joined: 09/06/2011
Wow, thanks. Most of my

Wow, thanks. Most of my experience is with book publishing, so I'm fairly familiar with copyright and trademark as it applies to other media. Guess I just didn't think about extending that to board games. I've done some small DTP runs for Atomic Earth (1.0), but I'm looking at rolling out into "real" distribution, and have been paranoid double-checking everything that looks crosseyed.

Good advice about the beta feedback. A fair number of my mechanics have changed. I'll take another peek at my schedule and timeline just to be sure.

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