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Allowing users to create custom content & looking for a uk based IP solicitor.

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Hi, Backgound and problem:
I'm developing a MMO and it is going very well, although there's a feature I'd like to add in, but it may be a bit of a legal stumbling block. The feature is that the user can create custom models (including textures) for the game; these objects are then uploaded and stored on my servers, then when a virtual character is in the vicinity of the virtual character who created the custom object, the object is downloaded to the new character so they can see the object. For an example, assume The Sims was an MMO and every player had their own household. Player A may create a custom model that is based on (e.g.) a ferrari. Then when player B visits player A's house, that ferrari object is then downloaded from my server onto their computer so that a ferrari shows up on player B's screen. I think the problem here is obvious, but it seems this is a bit of a grey area to me. Just to clarify the above though: 1) I provide original stock objects for the players, and that is what they pay for. Just because they sign up to the game, they don't get access to a ferrari model - this has to be created by the player. I'd like it where a user is capable of sharing the model with other users so that they could own the ferrari also without creating it themselves. If the sharing of models could be a tripping point - it goes the journey. 2) They also get a tool that is capable of creating custom objects + textures. They are free to create any content they wish, which may be based on existing trademarks etc. Questions:
So, after considering the above: 1) How do I stand with the above, bearing in mind I am not selling, nor advertising the user created content for or in my game. But I will be advertising the tool that can create custom content, NOT for the deliberate purpose of copyright/trademark infringement, just the capability of being able to create custom content. 2) How would this work in an International arena, I'm based in the UK, but clearly if the trademark holder is overseas (most likely the US), does this complicate matters? 3) I'm aware that I may need to speak to an IP solicitor for a bit of a more definite answer, so if anybody knows a good and reasonably priced UK based IP solicitor, I'd be grateful of that also. Clearly though, if the entire idea is a resounding no, then it isn't worth my while seeking professional legal advice. Thanks very much for your help. NewBreed.
Edit: I've just ran across Second Life, this seems to have a similar issue. From what I can gather they crack down on real life copyright infringement very well, but does the fact that their users pay each other for these objects make the difference? Never mind, according to what EdR says, infringement is probably rife. [Edited by - NewBreed on May 15, 2008 7:03:19 PM]

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Original post by NewBreed
3) I'm aware that I may need to speak to an absolutely must discuss this with at least one IP solicitor for a bit of a more definite answer and maintain an open relationship with them for the lawsuits that will follow when my game takes off, so if anybody knows a good and reasonably priced UK based IP solicitor, I'd be grateful of that also. Clearly though, if the entire idea is a resounding no, then it isn't worth my while seeking professional legal advice.
Fixed.



International IP law is perhaps the most complex legal field.

If your game does well then it is only a matter of time before the lawsuits follow.

The owners of Second Life (and probably every other MMO game) have their own legal department for this sort of issue.

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Original post by EdR
FWIW, Second Life doesn't crack down on IP theft well at all. You can find all sorts of crap there, all unlicensed and most better than the crap that IS licensed.

"Somebody else was doing it too" is not a valid legal defense.


Many companies have sent attack lawyers on IP theft on Second Life. They've had takedowns for products ranging from the Aeron chair to the SexGen bed, and everything in between.

They get so many takedown notices that they are discussing posting monthly stats about DMCA notices received so the public can review it. That's a lot of takedown notices.

Outside of IP, they are fighting lawsuits globally for issues across the board. Those include unregulated online gambling, pornography distribution (including child porn), regional decency laws, and even tax issues since they allow commerce.

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In my experience what you do is make the user take responsibility for the stuff he uploads. Just have him verify that he has the right to distribute the work. This way he'll have to take the legal consequences if it becomes popular, you just have to remove it whenever you get any DMCA complaints and then the company that owns the IP can feel free to sue the user which is never popular. I think there's a pending lawsuit against YouTube that will better clarify the situation. Right now I think nobody really knows.

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Original post by NewB
3) I'm aware that I may need to speak to an IP solicitor for a bit of a more definite answer, so if anybody knows a good and reasonably priced UK based IP solicitor, I'd be grateful of that also. [/b]

"Solicitor" doesn't mean "salesman," but rather "attorney," in BritSpeak? (^_^)
See www.obscure.co.uk - he's got a comprehensive list of attorneys there.

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1. Speak to the solicitor.

2. asp_ is right. You should include a statement in the custom creation section that clearly states that all content must be the user's own work or with the express written permission of the owner of the work. «Studio» is not responsible for user added content. Again, see a lawyer about this.

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A list of experienced games industry/IP lawyers Obscure Legal Directories several of whom are in the UK.

Quote:
Original post by asp_
In my experience what you do is make the user take responsibility for the stuff he uploads. Just have him verify that he has the right to distribute the work. This way he'll have to take the legal consequences if it becomes popular, you just have to remove it whenever you get any DMCA complaints and then the company that owns the IP can feel free to sue the user which is never popular. I think there's a pending lawsuit against YouTube that will better clarify the situation. Right now I think nobody really knows.

The problem is that none of that will stop them coming after the OP. The lawyers will have to come after the OP first, possibly with a "take down" letter but someone at some point will just sue. At that point the OP will need a good IP lawyer and also Indemnity Insurance.

Sure he may then be able to pass the attack lawyers along to the actual customer who uploaded the thing (which will not make him very popular) but there is still a lot of work and legal expense incurred in all this. This means your cost structure and business plan needs to be built on being able to pay big legal bills and fight long legal battles - all just so you can allow people to upload their own models. It just isn't a financially viable undertaking for a developer unless they have a lot of money from investors to pay for it.

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Thanks you everybody for your responses, clearly a feature like this is a minefield, for now I think it is best to leave this feature out until I'm capable of getting some solid EULA worked out for something like this. Thanks for the directory obscure, it will come in useful I'm sure.

Thanks again all for your responses,
NB.

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Original post by NathanRunge
1. Speak to the solicitor.

2. asp_ is right. You should include a statement in the custom creation section that clearly states that all content must be the user's own work or with the express written permission of the owner of the work. «Studio» is not responsible for user added content. Again, see a lawyer about this.


That isn't is an airtight defense.

I could be wrong, but IIRC solicitors don't do much in the way of litigation. This is a heavily litigated matter, and no amount of risk-shifting or limited liability in the EULA will protect you from possible lawsuits. This is especially true when the developer includes material in the content-creation libraries that is either copyrighted or confusingly similar and/or a ripoff existing trademarks.

You want to make sure that your solicitor is well connected to a barrister with experience in international IP litigation. I'm not sure if barrister and solicitor are interchangeable, but from what little I know of the British legal system solicitors usually concern themselves primarily with transactional matters.


Best of luck!

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I agree, it isn't. That's why I made a point of stating he should see a lawyer about it. For an independent studio it's probably best to avoid things that will likely get you sued.

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An interesting article over at Gamasutra, which focuses on the topic of Online Worlds And Real Legal Disputes. The article clearly shows two things:
1. The law is different from country to country and state to state - thus making it much more problematic to deal with.
2. Even the lawyers can't actually tell you up front if something is legal or enforceable. Ultimately you will have to go to court to find that out.

[Edited by - Obscure on May 19, 2008 8:22:11 AM]

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