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This situation is purely hypothetical, but I'd like to know what would happen at the end: I set up a team online, and we begin work on a game. The game gets pretty popular and sets up a small fan base ect. A few years later, the team has disbanded on good terms purely because they are now all in their own different career paths. I, the leader of the original team, now own a real commercial studio. And want to make a sequel to the game, can I? Since I designed it and was the leader of the team, is it me who owns the copyrights to it?

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Depends on the legal status of the original team, on any possible transferrals of copyright ownership from yourself to the team as a whole during the conception of the game, and on any possible transferrals of copyright ownership from the team to its members upon its disbanding.

Depending on the actual legal details of the above, a court could rule that you merely provided the team with a license to your copyright, which expired when the team broke up, or that your copyright was transferred to the team and then transferred back to yourself upon breakup, or that you transferred it to the team and it was then shared equally among all team members in the end...

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Could I ask all members to agree that I keep copyrights. But then how would this be proved? I don't want to have to pay to get official contracts written up or anything.

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The team cannot use your IP unless you allow it to, through either written or implied permission. If you allowed the team to use your IP, but there is no written permission, then it will be implied that you gave your de facto authorization for the usage, and the main question will be of whether you transferred your rights or merely licensed the use of your IP. If the deal ends up in court, you can't be certain of which will be chosen by the judge, as for all oral agreements.

If you give written permission to the team to use your IP under license (and have them sign the license agreement, as is expected in normal business practice), then you will both clarify your intent towards the team and have a written document to rely on if trouble arises.

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Ryb., there have been many other discussions here about ownership of IP in indie/amateur/hobby game projects. Recommend you read those. But the main point is always: hire a lawyer to write a good collaboration contract.

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> This situation is purely hypothetical
> And want to make a sequel to the game, can I?

Ah. A "Can I" vs "Should I" situation. Here's my personal take on those:

"Can I?". That's a purely risk versus reward decision. You *CAN* rip off your friends. But there could be legal, personal, and long-term business consequences in doing so.

"Should I?". That's an ethical decision. It's about mutual trust, long-term business relationships, and reputation.


The puzzling thing here is that you seemed to be already leaning towards a "Can I" scenario and trying to estimate the amount of damage you'd likely get. How about a "Should I" approach for once? Why not talk to your former friends to explain the situation and getting their approval? And as Tom pointed out, why not have a formal contract in the first place?

-cb

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Quote:
Original post by Rybis
I set up a team online, and we begin work on a game.
an actual legally registered company or just a group people working together for fun?

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I, the leader of the original team, now own a real commercial studio. And want to make a sequel to the game, can I?
No, not unless you plan for it right at the begining.

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Since I designed it and was the leader of the team, is it me who owns the copyrights to it?
No. You own the copyright on your work but the rest of the team own the copyright on their work. The copyright for the completed game would be owned by the whole team and it would be virtually impossible to work out who owned how much or which parts unless you took legal steps to define the relationship before even starting the game.

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Could I ask all members to agree that I keep copyrights.
You could but why should they agree? Why should you benefit from their hard work?

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But then how would this be proved?
You would need an assignment of rights agreement drawn up by a lawyer... assuming that the team will agree to sign it. Such an agreement will cost money.

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I don't want to have to pay to get official contracts written up or anything.
I thought you said in your first post that this was a hypothetical question.

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My solution to your hypothetical is: negotiate a contract with the original team members for royalties on the sequel but they sign over their original work/copyright to you. That way, you can be on the right side of law, AND ethics.

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Original post by Obscure
Quote:
Original post by Rybis
I set up a team online, and we begin work on a game.
an actual legally registered company or just a group people working together for fun?


As in online just for fun - as if I made a team now on GameDev with strangers over the internet.

What if, in the future when making my sequel, I could arrange to buy them out for their "share" of the copyright.

And for those saying "i thought it was hypothetical" - it might be true if I go through with plans

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Original post by Rybis
As in online just for fun - as if I made a team now on GameDev with strangers over the internet.
In that case all my points above do apply.

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What if, in the future when making my sequel, I could arrange to buy them out for their "share" of the copyright.
Yes that would certainly be possible. However, their rights are currently worth very little (as this is just a hobby game). As soon as you want to make a commercial sequel the idea becomes worth money and their copyright becomes valuable. Makes negotiating more difficult.

[Edited by - Obscure on February 20, 2008 5:58:35 AM]

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Original post by Obscure
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But then how would this be proved?
You would need an assignment of rights agreement drawn up by a lawyer... assuming that the team will agree to sign it. Such an agreement will cost money.


But these are just people I've met over the internet on GameDev (example).
So I doubt they'd willingly let me track them down and get them to sign something - when they could join another team with less trouble to join.

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Original post by Rybis
Quote:
Original post by Obscure
Quote:
But then how would this be proved?
You would need an assignment of rights agreement drawn up by a lawyer... assuming that the team will agree to sign it. Such an agreement will cost money.


But these are just people I've met over the internet on GameDev (example).
So I doubt they'd willingly let me track them down and get them to sign something - when they could join another team with less trouble to join.

You asked a question. He gave you the answer. Now you appear to be saying nothing more than that the answer is not suitable for your purposes.
It's too bad that reality often doesn't suit one's purposes, but... well, that's reality for you.
The answer to your "purely hypothetical" original question has already been given to you. If you want to make a sequel to a collaborative project, you have to either:
1. Have originally worked out the issues of ownership and sequel rights in the original project, or
2. Work out those issues now, or
3. Work them out when they come up eventually, should you choose to proceed without having done 1 or 2 above.

You didn't do 1, and you're just saying 2 is difficult. Going the 3 route could get ugly.


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Original post by Rybis
But these are just people I've met over the internet on GameDev (example).
So I doubt they'd willingly let me track them down and get them to sign something - when they could join another team with less trouble to join.
So give up on the idea then.

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Original post by Tom Sloper
If you can't afford a lawyer, you can't afford to enter into this kind of collaboration.


It is obviously ideal to have all legalities taken care of up front.

But I don't think this is realistic for many small indie projects, which may have started out as simply a hobby, often by people who have no knowledge of legal issues, nor any budget to hire a lawyer.

So really, I'm not sure what this advice is actually trying to say.
Is it, "don't ever collaborate in a game project unless you first hire a lawyer?"
Or is it, "you've done something wrong if your little indie pet project has unexpectedly grown into something you may wish to sell?"

Tom, I'm a big fan of your website, and all the invaluable advice you've given. I just don't get this bit. Maybe I'm just missing your meaning. Is this advice only meant to apply to commercial endeavors (which could arise far after the initial teamwork began)?


-------------

I'll try to give an analogy from a programmer's perspective.

If someone said to me, "I've made a game, and I didn't plan on having it multiplayer, but now I want/need to add multiplayer code."

My response wouldn't be "If you don't build the game from the ground up with multiplayer support, you never should have started."

Instead it would be, "It would have been easier if you had anticipated this, but here's my recommendation for what to do next..."

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The alternative to getting everyone to sign contracts, is to just get everyone to release their work under a completely non-restrictive licence.

Creative-commons, the zlib licence, a statement saying it's "public domain", etc...

Then anyone can legally make a sequel ;)

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woc wote:
>I don't think this is realistic for many small indie projects, which may have started out as simply a hobby, often by people who have no knowledge of legal issues, nor any budget to hire a lawyer.

Fair enough.

>So really, I'm not sure what this advice is actually trying to say.
Is it, "don't ever collaborate in a game project unless you first hire a lawyer?"

No.

>Or is it, "you've done something wrong if your little indie pet project has unexpectedly grown into something you may wish to sell?"

It's, "If you didn't reach a written understanding together, don't come crying to us about it now. If now you want to make money from that project, lawyers will be getting involved."

>Is this advice only meant to apply to commercial endeavors (which could arise far after the initial teamwork began)?

Yes. If nobody wants to try to make money off the thing, no legalities are even remotely an issue.

>I'll try to give an analogy from a programmer's perspective.

I love analogies!

>If someone said to me, "I've made a game, and I didn't plan on having it multiplayer, but now I want/need to add multiplayer code."
>My response wouldn't be "If you don't build the game from the ground up with multiplayer support, you never should have started."
>Instead it would be, "It would have been easier if you had anticipated this, but here's my recommendation for what to do next..."

Right. So if somebody says, "I collaborated on a game, and we never anticipated making any money from it, but now I want to do that but there's [some kind of problem with my former collaborators]," I don't say "You never should have started," I say, "Get a lawyer."

Precisely because now it's going in a money direction. Costs money to make money. Welcome to the world of business.

I'm happy to have clarified that!

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Original post by wocky
Right, so once money + IP is involved, get a lawyer, if you haven't already.
Makes perfect sense. Thanks for the reply.

Because of another thread on another forum, I had occasion to re-visit my column at http://www.igda.org/columns/gamesgame/gamesgame_Nov07.php this morning. Perhaps this adds further perspective on my meaning:

"If you want to play the Games game, you gotta be prepared to play it right. Figure out a way to pay for a knowledgeable attorney. Bigger legal fees later on are the likely result of not spending any legal fees up front."

My attitude to the OP in this thread may have been further colored by my low opinion of the common thought that some idea that one had in the past is "the ultimate idea" and that one's hopes of striking it rich depend solely on being able to pursue that one past idea. Ideas are easy. Just get new ones, already!

And I love how the OP started off with the question being "hypothetical" but he clearly had a specific real case in mind.

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Original post by Edward Ropple
This sounds like a "I want others to work for me but I want to reap the rewards" scenario to me.


Not really... I've been in this situation before too:

I joined a team that made a popular Mod for a shooter game, and years later I thought about funding a professional stand-alone version of the game.
However, there were dozens of contributors to the original Mod, which means the copyright was owned by dozens of people, which meant I couldn't go ahead with my commercial version without tracking down all of those people and either hiring them or buying their agreement.
Most of these people I didn't even really know, so it was impossible to find them all, so I had to heavily modify the project into a "spiritual successor" instead...

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