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Legal question about making game clones

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Do you need permission from copyright holder if you want to make a clone of a classic game? Can I profit from the game? When does the copyright expire and the game pass into the public domain?

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1. It depends on how faithfully you replicate the original, but generally you need permission. There are exceptions called "fair use".

2. If you intend to make a profit on the game, then you are more likely to need permission.

3. 75 years (IIRC) after the copyright holder dies.

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I'm not a lawyer, and am not giving legal advice.
You cannot protect IDEAS from copying except by keeping them secret, so making a game with mostly the same gameplay is problably fine. HOWEVER, it is possible any features are patented, which would mean you'd have to contact the patent holder to license use of such features. Also, all game art, music, and other actual content is copyright so you'd either need to contact the copyright holder to license the content or create your own that is not a derivative work.

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Again, I'm not a lawyer, but I think it depends in large part on which game you are attempting to clone. Some companies embrace such strong community support of an old title of theirs. Others don't.

For instance, there have been several teams that attempted to create total conversion mods or a complete 3D version of Starcraft that were shot down by Blizzard's legal team. However, I think they were trying to use many specific aspects of the game, such as the logo, character and object names, etc. If you read the letter at http://sc2.fargus.com/ you can see the reasons that Blizzard listed for taking legal action against the mod project.

On the good side, there have been many instances of the community taking over a game completely and keeping it alive via running their own servers, creating their own patches, etc. You can read the history of NetStorm here http://www.netstormhq.com/content.php?content.31 and how the community basically took control of the dead game.

It's great if you can find a company that's willing to let you make a clone and create a community around one of their old games. However, I have a hunch that as soon as you start trying to make money off of it, they will shut you down. They have nothing to lose if you are setting up a community and keeping one of their old games alive, but as soon as you start to charge for it...

And finally, it matters most on how closely your clone follows the original game. If you are making a very abstract clone of an old game, then it should not be a problem at all, even if you do charge for it. For instance, the Diablo series is very popular, and there have been several "direct" commercial clones of the game (see Revenant, Dungeon Siege, etc). But take notice, the clones did not use -any- of the characters, names, stories, music, art, objects, etc etc. They took the basic gameplay ideas and "cloned" them, making their own game in the process.

Anyway, those are my perspectives on the issue as a non-laywer from a logical point of view.

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It is very hard for a company to copyright specific methods of programming. A TASK can be held on copyright but a METHOD is very hard to put a law on.

For example, no one is going to make it illegal to load a BMP using a specific method, but someone will own copyright to programs which load BMP's like Photoshop.

TASK vs METHOD


I went through this before when I set out to make Betaman (a Megaman clone). Now first and foremost, if you plan to make profit and use the title, pictures, levels, music, sound effects from the original it is 100% illegal.

If you are just planning on making a demo and sharing it with people then you can match the gameplay as close as you can, you can even use pictures which kinda look alike, 'kinda', you can even go as far as using remix'd music from ocremix.org for example. If you do not wish to make profit then you can match the task and methods pretty close but not exact, again a real lawyer could define this better. Once you wish to make profit then you are going against there TASK, in my example, Megaman is the TASK and altho my method's where different, it is easy to argue this: "Your game looks and plays just like ours and you are making money off of it" A judge doesn't see source code only the game, or in my terms, he only see's the TASK and not the METHOD.



So sum it up, if you are making this for fun, then go hard, go crazy, do not sell it, just share it and forget about the legal stuff. I highly doubt you could program something to match TASK and METHOD of a AAA game, so if you are going without profit then I doubt you'll have any legal problems at all.


If you are a superior programmer with a company behind you and are going for profit, then talk to a lawyer.

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I stayed in a Holiday Inn, so I know what I'm talking about :)

Talk to a lawyer, even if you don't think you're doing anything illegal. It will save you a lot of grief later.

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Blizzard didn't want a Starcraft copy because the game is not dead. What benifit is it to Blizzard if people start playing a fan-made version of a still-popular game of theirs?

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Guest Anonymous Poster
Quote:
Original post by Daniel Miller
Blizzard didn't want a Starcraft copy because the game is not dead. What benifit is it to Blizzard if people start playing a fan-made version of a still-popular game of theirs?


I don't believe I ever said that Starcraft was dead. It is just an example of the community trying to make a not-for-profit game/mod. The community was going about it incorrectly as they were using exact art/logos/names/etc that were under copyright without permission.

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CamelotSystems a few years back begun the Starcraft modding phase. Total Conversions of the game itself began popping up everywhere.

Infact a popular turned Starcraft in Warcraft...

CamSys also made StarDraft and Arsenal and attempted a CommandEditor.

None of this was illegal, Blizzard somewhat under the table supported it by suppling HEX tables of there files and what not.

KingArthur was the lead programmer for the site, and I remember around Starcraft v1.08 he was hired at Blizzard simply for all the hacks he had made. They offered him a job and of course it then became illegal for him to continue his work at CamSys.


When it comes to Starcraft I still play 1-2 games a day, I love that game.
Anyone wanna team up? or go 1v1?

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Also, never attempt to clone or do a fan-made game based on a LucasArts game :D

They get terribly upset about this for some reason. I think I read about someone making a 2D Monkey Island fan-game with his own story and characters (but obviously including Guybrush) but LucasArts forced him to kill the project via legal action. Pity really. LucasArts are more Red Tape than Games nowadays.

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Using any name, dialogue, sound, image or other asset of a real game is illegal.
That includes any source code and libraries (dlls) that ship with the game.

If you want to copy a feature in a game then you can reimplement whatever you want as long as it isn't covered by a patent.

Using the Blizzard example, note how using ctrl+number in one of their RTS games binds the currently selected units to that key. This feature appeared in Command and Conquer before the Blizzard games.

Also note the visual similarity between MacOS and Windows and how nobody sued anybody else about it.

This is just as I understand it, if you need legal advice, speak to a lawyer,

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its a good idea to ask the people who make the game, they might give permission.

Graal used to be zelda online, until they were ordered to change the name, but luckily not much else changed.

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Quote:
Original post by Nitage
Also note the visual similarity between MacOS and Windows and how nobody sued anybody else about it.


Apple sued Microsoft. This was the infamous "Look and Feel" law suit.

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Guest Anonymous Poster
Quote:
Original post by Shannon Barber
Quote:
Original post by Nitage
Also note the visual similarity between MacOS and Windows and how nobody sued anybody else about it.


Apple sued Microsoft. This was the infamous "Look and Feel" law suit.


I didn't know that.

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Like I said in my post above. It is TASK vs METHOD.
No one is going to patent Quad-Tree's or Frustum Culling. No one will own texture splatting it is not possible to really own a particular method. For example, Doom and its BSP tree; Doom is under copyright, but BSP tree's are not.

Unfortunatly in the end what the law will always see is a TASK. I'm do not know forsure the outcome of the MacOS/Window lawsuit but I can see why it went to court. The TASK in both is essentially the same and they look rather alike, they probably share two completly different methods as would any remake clone of an old game, but the TASK was comparable which breaks copyright.

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Unfortunately it is the TASK that is what I'm interested in cloning. I'm thinking about making a 3d version of the old arcade game Marble Madness. The game had a 3d look and feel to it. I've seen 3d versions that features a ball rolling around in a 3d world (like Ballance), but I thought it would be nice to make a game that looks and feels more like the original.

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Arent there a lot of copyright things that dont apply to educational uses. So if this is for the culmination of your class and you want to show you can make a clone of x game with your unique code I would think it'd be ok. (funny you all mention it though, I'm not a lawyer either...)

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