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copyright confusion!

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im in need of someone to explain to be the boundaries that copyrights present when programming and using another game as a starting point or taking pieces of game codes, what is allowable and what is not? heres an example for you guys to understand what im talking about. there is an online game called "graal" I discovered this game about 4 years ago in its very early stages and it was great because it was like an online version of zelda; a link to the past for snes. the graphics were exactly the same or 95% the same. but i soon discovered the game was very different from zelda in the way it was laid out. Graal continued to develop and gradually grew away from zelda over the years, but if you look at their sceenshots on their website of the game in earlier development you will see what i mean. And there is alot of zelda like animations and graphics still in the game today. obviously this game didnt break any copyright laws in prodution or nintendo would be down their throats. So my question is, where do copyrights come into place with programming and game development? and is using another game as a launching point a good strategy ?

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Original post by Match
obviously this game didnt break any copyright laws in prodution or nintendo would be down their throats.

First off this assumption is invalid. The internet is large and Nintendo may never have heard of this product so the fact they haven't taken action doesn't mean that the item in question is not in breach.

Taking other people's code, graphics or sound is breach of copyright. Technically using someone elses art work as a basis for yours could constitue a breach as it is a "derivative work" however in truth there are three issues that are important.
1. Will anyone know
2. What will they do?
3. What will it cost you?

1. Unless your game is a big block buster then the original owner may never find out and so won't come after you. Of course if it is succesful then they may well. If you use their copyright material as a base but change it they may not realise. Likewise if you only use a small portion they may never notice - but they might.
I know of one professional dev studio that pinched just one sound effect from another game to use in their game. The original developer spotted this and came after them. They threatened to sue (and thus delay the release of the game) unless the developer coughed up. It cost the guilty party somewhere in the region of $100,000

2. In most cases if they catch you they will send a cease and desist letter requiring you to stop distributing your game or remove their copyright material. If you do this then all you have lost is the time spent making the game. If you don't cease then they opt to take you to court.

3. If they take you to court then you have to have a lawyer and that gets really expensive.

Ultimately Hplus0603 is right. The only people who can give you a definative answer of what you can or can't do is a lawyer but even if a lawyer says you can do X a company may decide to come after you anyway.

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