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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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Asking for legal advice in a gamedev forum is a certain way to get bad advice. Spend a couple of dollars to talk to a real lawyer.

If anything, check out that "GameDevKit" guy who's been running ads up on top of your screen. http://www.gamedevkit.com.

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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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