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Legality of obvious clones


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#1 JDX_John   Members   -  Reputation: 292

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Posted 22 August 2012 - 08:51 AM

I've been playing Worms recently on the iPad and been reminded how great it is. I was wondering if I created a clone called 'Grubs' or 'Maggotz' which was clearly a clone, where do I stand legally? You can't legally protect a game style can you?

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#2 Orymus3   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 15330

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Posted 22 August 2012 - 09:01 AM

You can't legally protect a game style can you?

You can definitely protect your game branding.
There may or may not be a lawsuit depending on:
- Are they willing to enforce their claim (in other words, do they want to go in courth against you and/or settle this out of courth)
- Are you a threat to their brand (I'd google Mojang vs Bethesda on "Scrolls")
- Are they even aware of your existence (in the case of indie games, most likely not)
- Are you profitting from this? (if you're just showcasing under open source licensing, this may or may not apply).

I'd say that if you are not a proeminent player, you can risk yourself at it, but just know that they may gain the upper hand.
I would personally make a search on linux "gnomes" which is an appelation often employ to designate games that originate from windows environment and were remade from scratch by indies to be re-branded and work on linux as "working clones" of the original product.
You'll notice that the branding sometimes differ in specific areas.

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#3 Tom Sloper   Moderators   -  Reputation: 11690

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Posted 22 August 2012 - 11:09 AM

if I created a clone ... which was clearly a clone, where do I stand legally? You can't legally protect a game style can you?


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#4 JDX_John   Members   -  Reputation: 292

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Posted 23 August 2012 - 07:33 AM

Thanks Tom but the two most specific answers you give seem to fall on either side of what I'm asking:

5. What if the only thing I want to borrow is the gameplay - say, the idea of jumping on things and collecting coins?
Fine. Don't worry about it.
5½. So I can make a Mario game as long as it doesn't have Mario in it or have "Mario" in the title?
No. You also can't use the Mario music or sound effects, and you can't use any of the other Mario characters (you know, the ones who aren't Mario himself), and you shouldn't simply copy the Mario gameplay exactly.

I am talking about technically only copying the gameplay, but at a much more detailed level than "collecting coins"... with Worms you could copy the same weapons (apart from ones they invented) and mechanics exactly, create all your own music and art, etc.

So does a clone which is very clearly a total rip-off but does not re-use any actual IP still count as question 5? Barring software patents...

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#5 SimonForsman   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 6814

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Posted 23 August 2012 - 08:06 AM

So does a clone which is very clearly a total rip-off but does not re-use any actual IP still count as question 5? Barring software patents...


As a rule of thumb, if you are unsure, don't do it, The nasty thing about IP laws is that there are tons of gray areas and some companies are far more aggressive than others, You can get sued even if what you do is perfectly legal. (and while you may win in the end you might have to spend years fighting for your rights in court), setting out with the goal to create a blatant rip-off is never a good idea. (Even if you don't get sued alot of potential customers will despise you for it)
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#6 Tom Sloper   Moderators   -  Reputation: 11690

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Posted 23 August 2012 - 08:49 AM

So does a clone which is very clearly a total rip-off but does not re-use any actual IP still count as question 5? Barring software patents...


This is a question that would be decided by a jury if your game goes to court. "Is it very clearly a total rip-off?" That's the question 12 people (from all walks of life) would look at and decide. If the decision is yes, the case is likely going to go against you. Maybe it would be better not to go to court at all, don't you think?
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#7 bschmidt1962   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 1964

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Posted 23 August 2012 - 11:59 AM

You can of course get sued for anything.
And though Tom's advice is excellent as always, I'd modify his comment above slightly.
The Jury isn't asked "is this game a ripoff".
They Jury is given specific instructions by a Judge, and they have to arrive at a verdict in accordance with those instructions.

That said, it's fairly well established that "gameplay" is not something that falls under copyright protection.
if you are serious about making a game 'highly influenced by" another game, you should talk to a game attorney well versed in the issue.

At the very least, do your own research--and I'd certainly read (and fully understand) the 39-page judgement in the recent Tetris case (link provided below).

http://www.loeb.com/...tris v. XIO.pdf

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Edited by bschmidt1962, 23 August 2012 - 12:12 PM.

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#8 JDX_John   Members   -  Reputation: 292

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Posted 24 August 2012 - 03:31 AM

Is it a relevant factor whether other clones already exist and haven't been targeted? For instance there are 2 big-name worms clones (hedgewars & Warmux) and then things become a bit less clear whether 'worms gameplay' is a game style or one game... e.g.a FPS is now a very generic style since there are so many of them.

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#9 rip-off   Moderators   -  Reputation: 9758

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Posted 24 August 2012 - 05:35 AM

My guess is, if you start by trying to make a worms clone, you will probably end up falling into at least the grey area, if not outright copyright infringement. If you're thinking of calling such a game 'Grubs' or 'Maggotz', then I feel you would almost certainly end up infringing.

The existence of other clones indicates that - today - any companies who could claim infringement aren't particularly interested in doing so. However that could change tomorrow - for example I would expect that if there was going to be a "Worms movie" (stupider things have happened), some lawyers would be taking a lot more interest in the IP of this area.

For more reasons than just legal, you should strive to make your own games. Take inspiration, but ensure that you're bringing something creative to the mix. Think of a new (or old) mechanic that could be mixed in with that type of game, something that will change the gameplay - not just adding more weapons or something. Maybe instead of worms crawling around terrain, you might make a game where little space suited people - maybe with jetpacks - are fighting through a slowly moving asteroid field. The addition of constant movement would be a game design challenge but you can certainly think of lots of new ideas, such as maybe using some kind of stylised gravity mechanic which curves the paths of projectiles around large asteroids! Perhaps such a game has been made, but I haven't seen it.

The resulting games should be more fun, more interesting, more marketable, and incidentally less infringing.

Edited by rip-off, 24 August 2012 - 05:35 AM.


#10 Orymus3   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 15330

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Posted 24 August 2012 - 08:16 AM

2 big-name worms clones (hedgewars & Warmux)


Never heard of them, and that could be why they wouldn't be targetted.
Unless they are a threat, they generally end up "under the radar" although you'd be surprised by the amount of people hired to make sure a brand's property is respected.
Certain companies (SquareEnix) are pretty fast on the cease-and-desist letters during development of clones...

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#11 Olof Hedman   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 3832

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Posted 24 August 2012 - 09:57 AM

Disclaimer: I have no real knowledge of law.

I'd say worms falls into a genre of turn based shooting games that existed long before worms, and that have numerous games with slightly varied gameplay, but all involve tossing things at eachother on destructible terrain. As long as you dont infringe on their IP directly by using ripped graphics or copy all the weapon names and effects exactly, you probably are fine.

Also, if you plan to make money, it might be a good idea to try to bring at least something unique to the genre.
Why else would anyone want to buy your game?

#12 JDX_John   Members   -  Reputation: 292

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Posted 28 August 2012 - 10:59 AM

Also, if you plan to make money, it might be a good idea to try to bring at least something unique to the genre.
Why else would anyone want to buy your game?

Because you bring it to a platform the original isn't on, or is crap on... such is the case with Worms which is what started this thought process; I'm a massive fan of the game and the iPad version is such a let-down I almost want to make my own just so I can play it!

If only I wasn't so busy that doing stuff for fun was infeasible :(

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#13 mdwh   Members   -  Reputation: 993

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Posted 30 August 2012 - 08:12 AM

I've been playing Worms recently on the iPad and been reminded how great it is. I was wondering if I created a clone called 'Grubs' or 'Maggotz' which was clearly a clone, where do I stand legally? You can't legally protect a game style can you?

The game style of Worms is a genre that long predates that game - http://en.wikipedia..../Artillery_game . I played Worms on my Amiga, and Tanks years earlier on a BBC.

Also see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Warmux , http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hedgewars .

Or were you thinking of something specific that is unique to Worms?

But as always, anyone can sue you for any reason, and given that apparently rounded rectangles and finger movements are worth a billion dollars, even if other people have done it before, if you're in the US, who knows... It's a question of what risk you want to take. Since anyone can sue you for any reason, and it's better not to getted sued at all, then perhaps it's better not to ever release any software at all. But then, most of us here presumably haven't chosen that option.

Edited by mdwh, 30 August 2012 - 08:15 AM.

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#14 Ravyne   GDNet+   -  Reputation: 10890

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Posted 30 August 2012 - 10:34 AM

You can get sued for anything, and regardless of whether you can or should win a court case, the mere threat of having to shoulder the cost of it could shutter or bankrupt you.

In general, you can't protect gameplay, but at least in some recent cases, specific gameplay has been protected. That case involved a Tetris clone, which as far as I recall, did most of the usual things people do when cloning -- new art and music, add some bling, add some minor additions to gameplay, etc. Still, the court came down against them, citing specifics of gameplay--the size of the grid, the mechanic of removing lines combined with the scoring system, the shapes, rate of fall, etc, combined with the fact that the only additions to gameplay weren't significant or integral enough to make the game play differently than the original.

Frankly, in a world with Zynga and their blatant rip-off tactics, I think this is a good thing overall, just so long as we don't end up with individual gameplay mechanics being able to be protected in isolation.

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#15 bschmidt1962   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 1964

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Posted 30 August 2012 - 02:58 PM

The Tetris/Xio judgment (it was a summary judgment) specifically said that gameplay itself is NOT protected; only the "expression" of the gameplay.
The judgment showed side by side screens of Tetris and Mino, and concluded that there was no significant difference in the two games expression of the basic gameplay idea.

So it looks like if they had (for example) changed the dimensions of the screen, made the tiles people in various contortions (instead of block shapes), and not followed tetris so verbatim etc. they would have been ok.
I provided a link to the actual judgement in a prior post on this. It's only 39 pages; the real meat starts on page 24:

"To separate ideas from expression, the parties offer competing
definitions of game rules, but I do not need to articulate a rigid, specific definition.
While the unenviable task of dissecting a game’s ideas from its expression is difficult, I
am guided by case law and common sense, and find that the ideas underlying Tetris can
be delineated by understanding the game at an abstract level and the concepts that drive
the game."


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Edited by bschmidt1962, 30 August 2012 - 03:01 PM.

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