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Author Topic: Board game copyright question  (Read 2551 times)

palatine

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Board game copyright question
« on: 05-19-16 at 04:21 pm »

Hi guys,

I was wondering whether I could pick your brains about copyright law regarding board games.

I would like to make a version of the American card game 'Cards against Humanity' which is specific to my University in order to sell. I am aware that I would need copyright permission from the owners of CAH, but I am wondering if it is possible to get around this in anyway.

My game would not share the content of the original cards, the colour of the cards, they wouldn't need to share the shape of the original cards. The name of the game need not include 'Cards against Humanity' - rather 'Cards vs Humanity or v Humanity'. I would not need to include a piece of paper with the rules on either. So, all that I would be providing, would be a box of cards with some words on them which bare relatively little resemblance to the original but would obviously be a version of the game.

Does anyone know if I would be infringing on any copyright laws?

Any help is really appreciated!
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Robert T Nicholson

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Re: Board game copyright question
« Reply #1 on: 05-19-16 at 07:36 pm »

Very good question!  I happen to to be a "board gamer" myself, and I know a few game designers and small game publishers, so this is something I've looked into.

First, remember that copyright law protects creative expressions, but not ideas or processes.

So first let's talk about game rules.  The "rules" document is a creative work.  An "expression" of the rules.  You can't copy it. 

But, if you can describe the process of playing the game in your own words, you are not violating copyright law.  In other words, the rules are not protected by copyright law, but the rules document is.

Now let's consider the cards.  The design of the cards, the layout and formatting, graphics or illustration, and written words are all protected by copyright law.  You can't make your cards look like their cards.  You can't copy their words.

But if you create your own cards, and you don't copy their cards in any way, it's not a violation of copyright law.

Of course, the manufacturer of the other game may not see it that way.  They might hire a lawyer to write you nasty letters.  They might file a lawsuit against you.  And then you will need to hire a lawyer.  So even if the law is on your side, you can still spend a lot of money defending yourself.  Some publishers are more likely than others to go after you.  I don't really know where CAH stands on this issue.

Another thing to be careful of is patents.  The "method of play" of a game (the rules) can be patented!  It's an expense very few game manufacturers want to incur, so you won't run in to this often, but if you do, it can be pretty powerful protection.  I believe the Magic guys have some patents.

Finally, you need to understand trademark law.  You can't in any way imply that you are associated with or endorsed by CAH.  You can make a factual statement like, "This card set is compatible with the CAH rules.  <your game> is not associated with or endorsed by CAH."  And when you mention CAH, you should have the registered trademark symbol, and a note that says something like "CAH is a trademark of...."

There's some discussion of Intellectual Property on BoardGameGeek.com.  Here's a link to a summary thread:

https://boardgamegeek.com/thread/493249/mythbusting-game-design-and-copyright-trademarks-a

One more thing:

From your post, it sounds like you are not in the United States.  That adds another wrinkle to all of the above.  By International treaty, copyrights are generally respected across international boundaries.  However, in most cases trademarks and patents are not, so the publisher needs to apply for protection in each country or jurisdiction.  So if you happen to live in a tiny third-world country where nobody bothers to register, you can thumb your nose at patent and trademark claims.

What's that idea you just had?  Manufacture things in said third-world country, ignoring patents , and then ship them to the US for sale? 

Sorry, as soon as you try to sell those good in the US or other country where the rights have been claimed, you are subject to the laws and protections of that country. 

Isn't this stuff fun?  I have from time to time thought of creating a game about IP law.  A limited market, to be sure, although the game could potentially be used as a teaching aid and sold into the educational market.

« Last Edit: 05-19-16 at 07:57 pm by artchain »
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This post is provided for information purposes only, and does not constitute legal advice.

Robert Nicholson Consulting | Copyright Safeguard | ED Treatment Center

palatine

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Re: Board game copyright question
« Reply #2 on: 05-20-16 at 06:31 am »

Thanks really helpful - thanks very much!
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Robert T Nicholson

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Re: Board game copyright question
« Reply #3 on: 06-02-16 at 09:48 pm »

Here's some information about a recent US court case which reaffirms that game mechanics are not protected by copyright:

http://www.strebecklaw.com/court-rules-favor-cloned-tabletop-game-no-protection-us-copyright-law/

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This post is provided for information purposes only, and does not constitute legal advice.

Robert Nicholson Consulting | Copyright Safeguard | ED Treatment Center
 



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