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Can you give away free remakes of old games?


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#1 CodaKiller   Members   -  Reputation: 108

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Posted 13 August 2009 - 10:59 PM

I'm wondering if it's legal to give away remakes of old games?

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#2 stormwarestudios   Members   -  Reputation: 215

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Posted 13 August 2009 - 11:24 PM

First, IANAL.

If someone owns the copyright to the game's content, then it's copyright infringement to recreate the game, redistribute a remake, or make a profit from it.

More info on copyright expiry.


#3 Codeka   Members   -  Reputation: 1153

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Posted 13 August 2009 - 11:55 PM

It's irrelevent whether you give a game away for free, or whether you charge money for it. If someone holds copyright on the game (name of the game, name and likeness of the characters, etc) then there is a good chance they will come after you*.

* That is to say, "good enough chance that it's not worth it". It's not that hard to come up with your own ideas.

#4 Obscure   Moderators   -  Reputation: 174

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Posted 14 August 2009 - 02:35 AM

Just to back up the previous posters it is copyright infringement (and possibly trademark infringement) to copy or distribute a copyright work without the owners permission. Makes no difference if money is involved or not.
Dan Marchant - Business Development Consultant
www.obscure.co.uk

#5 Traveler   Members   -  Reputation: 161

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Posted 14 August 2009 - 03:05 AM

Of course, you could try and contact the owner to ask if they are okay with you doing a remake of their game(s). I know of several people on Retro Remakes who've done that and gotten positive replies.

#6 kdog77   Members   -  Reputation: 229

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Posted 14 August 2009 - 08:49 AM

Technically, it is copyright infringement to remake the game regardless of whether or not you distribute it because it would be considered a derivative product and only copyright owners have the right to make derivatives.

If you are serious about remaking the game, even as a giveaway, then approach the publisher or developer of the original game and ask for permission.

#7 Rycross   Members   -  Reputation: 576

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Posted 14 August 2009 - 08:52 AM

The developers of the Chrono Trigger remake didn't seem to fare that well:

http://www.opcoder.com/projects/chrono/

So, no, you can't, unless the game isn't under copyright or the license allows you to.

#8 dmatter   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 3007

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Posted 14 August 2009 - 09:24 AM

Names, ideas, concepts and techniques cannot be copyrighted, in other words, the actual game aspect of a game cannot be copyrighted. I don't know why people are implying otherwise to be honest.

The parts of a game that can be copyrighted are sounds (sound effects and music), graphics (photographs, icons, fonts, sprites, etc), literature (instructions, dialogs, etc) and cutscenes.

So you can recreate Pacman without copyright issue provided you don't use the same sound effects and sprites (or sound effects and sprites that have been derived from the originals). If you make brand new sprites and brand new sound effects then you're fine. Though you might not really consider it to be a Pacman clone by then perhaps.

Interestingly, games like Pacman, Pong, Breakout, etc have been involved in such fuzzy litigation that they're basically now a free-for-all for anyone to recreate.

Please note that whilst you might be above the board with copyright, there are other forms of IP that various companies might own, like trademarks for names. If you contact the company who owns some IP relating to a particular game then they'll almost certainly tell you to cease and desist, the fact of the matter is they don't really want to know and may try their best to keep themselves unaware any infringement on games like these as otherwise they're legally obliged to try and do something about it.

Of course, I am not a lawyer, more to the point I am not aware of all IP laws and differences in those laws that vary from country to country.

#9 frob   Moderators   -  Reputation: 19757

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Posted 14 August 2009 - 10:50 AM

Quote:
Original post by dmatter
Names, ideas, concepts and techniques cannot be copyrighted, in other words, the actual game aspect of a game cannot be copyrighted. I don't know why people are implying otherwise to be honest.

Copyright protections include rights to create derivative works.

Clones of games are considered to be derived from the original creative work. This is rarely tested in court because good lawyers will tell their clients to save their money rather than fight for a guaranteed loss.

There are certain parts of gameplay mechanics that are not protected under copyright. Those are usually covered under trademark, trade dress, and other IP protections.

Trying to extract those unprotected parts is simply playing with fire. Even if do manage to implement a game in a completely legal fashion, you can still face a very expensive lawsuit. You would have to spend a fortune to defend yourself in court and (hopefully) prove your case. Unless you have a pile of money to burn, it is not worth the huge risk.

Quote:
If you contact the company who owns some IP relating to a particular game then they'll almost certainly tell you to cease and desist, the fact of the matter is they don't really want to know and may try their best to keep themselves unaware any infringement on games like these as otherwise they're legally obliged to try and do something about it.
Very much false.

Many companies either hire services or have their own people actively and continuously scan the search engines for their product names and keywords.

These companies really DO want to know, and they WILL send a C&D as soon as they find out. For videos, countless youtube movies get takedown notices within minutes or hours of being posted.

My Google-fu is weak right now and I can't find links, but there have been many news stories over the years about homebrew/hobby games getting takedown notices the same day they are placed online.



Do not clone other people's games. Be creative and come up with something of your own.

#10 sybixsus   Members   -  Reputation: 210

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Posted 14 August 2009 - 11:06 AM

Quote:
Original post by dmatterInterestingly, games like Pacman, Pong, Breakout, etc have been involved in such fuzzy litigation that they're basically now a free-for-all for anyone to recreate.

Sorry, but this is very bad advice. Several "high profile" Pong games were shut down by Atari recently, and Pacman is even worse. A big publisher was recently forced to stop selling several Pacman clones after a lawsuit from Hasbro, Atari and some other companies. They're not remotely "free for all".


#11 Obscure   Moderators   -  Reputation: 174

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Posted 14 August 2009 - 12:21 PM

Quote:
Original post by dmatter
Names, ideas, concepts and techniques cannot be copyrighted, in other words, the actual game aspect of a game cannot be copyrighted. I don't know why people are implying otherwise to be honest.

No one in this thread has implied anything of the sort and saying that we have will only lead to confusion for the OP.

To clarify, the OP asked about the legality of doing a remake of an existing game. A remake is a recreation of an existing game done in one of two ways:
1. A direct copy of Double Dragon II which looks, sounds and plays like DDII.
2. An unlicensed sequel or prequel which includes the characters and settings of the original and or makes use of any trademarks such as the title.

Creating the first would be a straight breach of copyright. The second would be deemed a derivative work and would also be a breach of copyright.

What can not be protected by copyright is the concept of a game. Anyone may make a game in which a pair of characters move through a scrolling background fighting enemies - provided that they do not use/copy the graphics, sound or level design of another existing game. This is the point you were making however this isn't what the OP was asking about and no one here has claimed or implied that making such a game is illegal.

Using Pacman as an example Geon (Strawdog Studios' Geon is a game which is inspired by the Pacman pellet collecting game play mechanic. The player controls an avatar which collects pellets. The avatar is a cube, the maps are completely different from Pacman, the sound effects/music are original, the game has no ghosts and the game contains a host of game play features never found in Pacman. It copies the pellet collecting mechanic but has no visual or auditory elements copied from or similar to Pacman and as such it is an original work and does not infringe on the Pacman copyright.

Quote:
The parts of a game that can be copyrighted are sounds (sound effects and music), graphics (photographs, icons, fonts, sprites, etc), literature (instructions, dialogs, etc) and cutscenes.
You forgot to mention the code, which is also protected by copyright.

Quote:
So you can recreate Pacman without copyright issue provided you don't use the same sound effects and sprites (or sound effects and sprites that have been derived from the originals). If you make brand new sprites and brand new sound effects then you're fine. Though you might not really consider it to be a Pacman clone by then perhaps.

Again I am afraid this information is confusing and as such misleading.
It is impossible to recreate "Pacman" without using the same sound effects and sprites (or recreating copies which look/sound similar enough to be recognised). If the game does not feature a character recognisable as Pacman, does not sound like Pacman and has different level designs then it ISN'T Pacman.

Conversely, any game you create which contains a recognisable copy of the Pacman character, sound effects or level designs would be an infringement of copyright (regardless if they were taken from the original game or redrawn/recreated from scratch) and probably also trademark infringement (as I am fairly sure the Pacman image has by now become a trademark).

Quote:
Interestingly, games like Pacman, Pong, Breakout, etc have been involved in such fuzzy litigation that they're basically now a free-for-all for anyone to recreate.

As far as I am aware this statement is untrue. Pacman is still covered by Copyright and the IP owner is still producing and supporting Pacman products and as such they are protected by copyright and existing trademarks. If you know this not to be the case please provide some legal precedent/opinion to support this statement.
Dan Marchant - Business Development Consultant
www.obscure.co.uk

#12 dmatter   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 3007

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Posted 14 August 2009 - 01:39 PM

There seems to be a lot of disagreement-sounding comments directed at various quotes from my post, although most of those don't actually go on to say anything contradictory to what they quote, so for brevity I'll concentrate just on those bits that do.

Quote:
Original post by frob
Quote:
If you contact the company who owns some IP relating to a particular game then they'll almost certainly tell you to cease and desist, the fact of the matter is they don't really want to know and may try their best to keep themselves unaware any infringement on games like these as otherwise they're legally obliged to try and do something about it.
Very much false.
You're right of course, it's a very badly phrased statement on my behalf. I was really referring to games like Pong, I feel this is more evident in light of the context of my post, but still.

Quote:
Sorry, but this is very bad advice. Several "high profile" Pong games were shut down by Atari recently, and Pacman is even worse. A big publisher was recently forced to stop selling several Pacman clones after a lawsuit from Hasbro, Atari and some other companies. They're not remotely "free for all".
Well, it wasn't actually advice. I'm conceding, though, that Pacman may have been a bad choice to have in that list, Wiki indicates there have been a lot of lawsuits over Pacman although these have primarily been targetted at larger bodies, not individual homebrew developers. I'm curious about those Pong lawsuits you speak of, have you any references? I'm unable to find any. In reality though Atari (if they still own it?) just won't care, Pong has been remade so many times, it's even been done by id Software.

Quote:
Quote:
Names, ideas, concepts and techniques cannot be copyrighted, in other words, the actual game aspect of a game cannot be copyrighted. I don't know why people are implying otherwise to be honest.
No one in this thread has implied anything of the sort and saying that we have will only lead to confusion for the OP.
Hmm, perhaps it's up to interpretation then, the way I read it there are several posts that indicate to copyright covering more than it actually does.

Quote:
As far as I am aware this statement is untrue. Pacman is ...
Yeah, referencing Pacman in that list was poor on my part really, sorry about that.


Edit: At the OP: I think this is an enlightening read on this topic. Clearly I was over-eager to declare that these games a free-for-all for anybody to remake, although that's such a rip off of the original that it's an obvious candidate for copyright infringement anyway.

[Edited by - dmatter on August 14, 2009 8:39:40 PM]

#13 Obscure   Moderators   -  Reputation: 174

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Posted 15 August 2009 - 01:52 PM

Quote:
Original post by dmatter
.....In reality though Atari (if they still own it?) just won't care, Pong has been remade so many times, it's even been done by id Software.

What qualifies you to say if Atari or any other corporation does or doesn't care? Many companies have stopped making games based on a specific IP only to then return to it 5 or even 10 years later. The fact that a company isn't currently actively making a game doesn't mean they don't care about the IP.

[quote]Pong has been remade so many times,....[/qoute]
Likewise, the fact that there are many clones of a particular game in no way indicates that the game is free-for-all to remake or that the company does not care. All the games you mentioned are protected by copyright unless the IP owner has specifically waived that right and placed them in the public domain. Clones exist for several reasons...
i. Some of them are licensed - they asked the IP owner for permission which was granted. They may have paid for the license of the IP owner may have given them permission for free.
ii. The IP owner doesn't know about them. The internet is huge and resources are limited. Even if a company employs people specifically to search for infringing works they may not find them all. Some kid who uploads a flash copy of Pacman to a site that gets a few thousand hits isn't likely to pop up on Namco's radar - this in no way indicates that Namco don't care, just that they don't know.
iii. Cost - Even if an IP owner does find a clone it takes time and costs a lot of money to enforce copyright through the courts. Companies can (and many many have) start by sending a cease and desist letter, which in the majority of cases will get the offending game removed. However, when this doesn't work they may decide to go to court or they may decide that it isn't worth the cost at this time.

Lots of people drive in excess of the speed limit. That doesn't mean it is somehow sort of legal for you to do so. If you get caught you will get a ticket. The police don't catch every speeded as there are too many roads and not enough police to catch everyone. That doesn't mean they don't care about it, it just means that the cost of catching everyone is too high (you would need a police officer on every street corner all the time) and the cost of prosecuting everyone would outweigh the benefits - instead they prosecute the worst offenders as an example to others.

Dan Marchant - Business Development Consultant
www.obscure.co.uk

#14 Promit   Moderators   -  Reputation: 6336

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Posted 15 August 2009 - 04:18 PM

This is an especially stupid time to be remaking old games, as the rise of digital distribution has given new life to many, many long dead franchises and games. Look at the Sega Genesis game collections being released, or the presnce of more than a few re-releases of old games on Xbox Live Arcade. These dead games are suddenly worth money all over again, and you'd have to be a moron to think you can get away with giving away clones for free now.

#15 CodaKiller   Members   -  Reputation: 108

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Posted 15 August 2009 - 09:52 PM

Quote:
Original post by Rycross
The developers of the Chrono Trigger remake didn't seem to fare that well:

http://www.opcoder.com/projects/chrono/

So, no, you can't, unless the game isn't under copyright or the license allows you to.


That was such a nice remake, pains me to see that all that work was wasted...

#16 zissakos   Members   -  Reputation: 100

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Posted 25 April 2012 - 02:31 AM

Sorry for bringing up this old topic but I think it still is very interesting for homebrew programmers.

I understood that it is a very thin line between copyright infringement and legal remake.
I understodd the the game concept/game idea cannot be copyrighted.

Now what I would like to do is take a beloved game of my childhood, say PUZZNIC, make totally NEW game art (graphics, sound, characters, names etc.) but then: LEVELS!

What do you think about the level design itself? So in PUZZNIC, you have several colored blocks stacked onto each other comprising a level.
If the levels in my game would look the same (however with totally different artwork, as I said), what do you think about the legality of doing this?

Is just the level design (the mere position of blocks/doors/teleporters etc. in a 2D game field) protected under copyright?

#17 SimonForsman   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 5965

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Posted 25 April 2012 - 03:04 AM

Sorry for bringing up this old topic but I think it still is very interesting for homebrew programmers.

I understood that it is a very thin line between copyright infringement and legal remake.
I understodd the the game concept/game idea cannot be copyrighted.

Now what I would like to do is take a beloved game of my childhood, say PUZZNIC, make totally NEW game art (graphics, sound, characters, names etc.) but then: LEVELS!

What do you think about the level design itself? So in PUZZNIC, you have several colored blocks stacked onto each other comprising a level.
If the levels in my game would look the same (however with totally different artwork, as I said), what do you think about the legality of doing this?

Is just the level design (the mere position of blocks/doors/teleporters etc. in a 2D game field) protected under copyright?


The level design would most likely be protected aswell unless it is so basic that it cannot be considered a creative work. (if you made a game like super mario with a level that was completely empty except for the a "floor" that extended from start to finish then you'd have trouble suing anyone for "stealing" it), (For puzznic the levels are most likely covered by copyright).

as most games are works for hire copyright should last for 95 years after publication in the US (other nations may or may not have different durations), the duration have however been extended multiple times in the past and might be extended again before any computer game falls into public domain. (For non computer games there are quite a few out there that are old enough to be in the public domain (many even predates copyright) that you can freely create a computer version of) (Just remember that trademarks last for as long as they're used, or someone bothers to renew the registrations)
I don't suffer from insanity, I'm enjoying every minute of it.
The voices in my head may not be real, but they have some good ideas!

#18 samoth   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 4656

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Posted 25 April 2012 - 03:48 AM

Names, ideas, concepts and techniques cannot be copyrighted, in other words, the actual game aspect of a game cannot be copyrighted.

See Sega vs. Fox Interactive (The Simpsons Road Rage infringing Crazy Taxi gameplay).

#19 SimonForsman   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 5965

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Posted 25 April 2012 - 05:27 AM


Names, ideas, concepts and techniques cannot be copyrighted, in other words, the actual game aspect of a game cannot be copyrighted.

See Sega vs. Fox Interactive (The Simpsons Road Rage infringing Crazy Taxi gameplay).


That wasn't a copyright case, it was a patent case, this is the patent in question:
http://patft.uspto.g...8&RS=PN/6200138

The case was settled out of court so the legal grounds for Sega to make their claims and the validity of the patent(as with most software patents) are still uncertain.
Software patents are a minefield but fortunatly they only last for 20 years (Which is far shorter than copyright)
I don't suffer from insanity, I'm enjoying every minute of it.
The voices in my head may not be real, but they have some good ideas!

#20 zissakos   Members   -  Reputation: 100

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Posted 26 April 2012 - 01:31 AM

so the level design itself can't be used?

OK, if I came up with my own levels, then only the game idea/game concept would be the same
(get two or more blocks of the same color to touch each other using a freely movable cursor, then they disappear. do this in a field where gravity applies. clear the field to advance.)

Would that be legal? Having ONLY the same gameplay mechanic?




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