Copyright questions concerning computer games
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Posted by Petter Holmberg on September 26, 2002 at 05:36:45:
I have a few questions about a common phenomenon on the Internet: Fangames based on licensed computer games:
1 - If a group of people, fans of a particular computer game or computer game series created and published by a company owning the copyright of this game's name, the name of its characters, locations etc. would want to create an unofficial sequel/prequel (or whatever) to the game, without explicit permission from the company owning the copyrights, what are their chances of being able to do so without the risk of being sued or simply shut down by the company with the copyrights? Note that the creators of the fangame intends to release the game for free, without claiming any ownership to the game copyrights and without intending to compete with the company for sales of the official games.
2 - If the company becomes aware of the fangame project and threatens to shut it down, can the people creating the fangame modify the copyrighted parts of the game and thus preventing the possibility of legal actions taken towards them, even though it may be quite obvious to everyone that the game still is full of features very similar to the official games?
3 - If the company owning the copyrights notices the game, but decides not to take legal actions as the fangame actually boosts sales of their official games, what would it take for the creators of the fangame to be sure they cannot be confronted at a later stage if the company changes its mind? Are there any ways to go other than getting an explicit permission from the company to release the fangame?
4 - If the creators of the fangame are approached by the company with the copyrights and are offered the rights to publish the games even if the company owns the copyrights, can they make a deal that ensures that the fangame won't be taken away from them or discontinued at a later stage just because they agreed to produce the game under their supervision?
I ask these questions because there have been many real instances of these problems lately, and the response from the computer game companies owning the copyrights has been very ambiguous. Some shut down these kinds of projects instantly, others let them be, either because they feel they profit from the games and are therefore better off looking through their fingers, or because the fangame cretors has been clever enough to dig up some lawtext from somewhere that they claim protects them from any legal actions taken against them, probably also making the company with the copyrights hesitate about taking any legal action. I would like to hear someone with knowledge on copyrights to comment on these issues and maybe trying to explain how far the freedom of the fangame creators goes in legal terms. I hope someone on this forum can help me to make these things clear, or at least try! :)
BTW: These questions apply to American or international copyright laws.
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