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A Question on Copywright

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Hello! I have a ...well, rather large indie game development team online. We are a group of die hard Star Ocean/Tri-Ace fans making a game based in the universe of Star Ocean (a prequel to be precise). The game uses around 13 names from the actual series, but the plot and story development, as well as the material used to code and create it with (including all sprites, CGI, animations, scripts, and musik) are 100% ours. My intention is to build up a good chunk of the game and present it to Tri-Ace in a package format to see if they will let us distribute it as a free game to support them and the name of Star Ocean. My question lies in this fact: when is the appropriate time to e-mail/contact Tri-Ace about this fan game? I certainly don't want to sound like a complete newbie 'hey we wantz to make a gaaaame of star ocean hur hurrr plz kthxbai!', but I also want to have enough to show that they will be honored to have such a game devoted to their name and game series. Pretty much, I'd like to get something to show for FIRST before I go in. Is this a good idea? Or should I contact first with just a brief synopsis of the game? I'm pretty confident in the fact that our game is very original in content and plot development, but I also want to be smart about this as well. This is my dev team's first 'get our feet wet' game project, which is why we're not trying to tackle a game with completely original systems that will take much effort. We want to have an easy something to show for whilst promoting a company and game we adore and take very seriously. I looked up Tri-Ace's website, but could only find an admin@website e-mail and no personal direct addresses. What would be the best route to find out how to get in contact with them? Any advice helps. We love this project and we want to see it go forward, as it is very special to us, just as the actual Star Ocean series is. Thanks for replies. -Ashes

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Original post by EkIchiGames
My question lies in this fact: when is the appropriate time to e-mail/contact Tri-Ace about this fan game?

My opinion: the best time to ask for permission would be before you've done any serious work on the project at all. That way if it is rejected you will not have lost months or years of hard work.

Chances are the owner of the Star Ocean copyright will reject it, possibly out of hand. They've got every legal right to, and they may not want free projects taking their IP and possibly diluting their trademark especially if they have more Star Ocean games planned.

When you contact them, make sure you point out that you respect their IP and ask for their advice on how to best avoid trademark issues, as that's something they will be particularly concerned about. You'll almost certainly have to avoid using "Star Ocean" in your project title.

Be prepared for disappointment though. Chances are they'll reject it. You can always make a homage to Star Ocean by making it along similar lines, including the elements that you liked, but avoiding anything particular to that work.

Oh, and if you do get approval, try to get it in writing. It might be best to send them a letter if you can. My legal knowledge isn't enough to know this for sure (I'm no IP lawyer!), but permission in writing and signed will hold more weight and will help attract people to your project. Sending a letter is also generally good because it shows you're serious.

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Thank you so much.

I've actually not much worry. The only thing we have used so far is a few character names and the name of one planet. If rejected, I will definitely just be changing the names around and having it be that. The project is already looking to be called something different in title: just Fallen Angels, or Space Odyssey: Fallen Angels.

I really have no problem at all with doing the changing of names. The plotline and artwork are all original to begin with.

I merely just wish to use the names in the project if possible. And, of course, put something about it being dedicated to them and the series, to promote it.

To be honest, I'm not too sure about how to get in contact with Tri-Ace whatsoever. They DO hold their copyright (unlike most people think, who believe SquareEnix does...) for their own games. I really wish I knew how to contact them, even if to ask.

If all that will have to be changed are names spoken, would that affect the timing at all whatsoever? I really don't want to seem newb-ish. I want to show them something they may actually consider liking. I'm not so sure a simple storyline will do the trick...

Thanks for the advice!

- Ashes

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Original post by Trapper Zoid
Be prepared for disappointment though. Chances are they'll reject it.

It is guaranteed to be rejected. They are legally bound to reject it. Not only that, but they might actually be forced to sue you for trademark infringement. International trademark law states that a trademark can only be upheld if it is actively enforced and defended when challenged. Using a third party trademark without prior written authorization is an infringement, and classifies as a challenge under international IP law. If they don't enforce their trademark, they can actually lose it. They will certainly not risk that. Maybe for a few million Dollar deal. But certainly not for a free fan game. This has nothing to do with whether they like it or not - they're legally bound to react this way.

And then there is the point of franchising. They cannot allow you to use their IP for free, if they ever plan to sell it / sublicense it to someone else sometime in the future.

I applaud your enthusiasm and dedication. However, IP law is an extremely dangerous mine field. Most companies react very violently when it comes to defending their IP. You should definitely check these laws before jumping into a project that uses someone elses IP. If I were you, I would not show them anything that uses any of their trademarks. You might end up with a lawsuit that could financially ruin you.

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Original post by Yann L
It is guaranteed to be rejected. They are legally bound to reject it. Not only that, but they might actually be forced to sue you for trademark infringement. International trademark law states that a trademark can only be upheld if it is actively enforced and defended when challenged. Using a third party trademark without prior written authorization is an infringement, and classifies as a challenge under international IP law. If they don't enforce their trademark, they can actually lose it. They will certainly not risk that. Maybe for a few million Dollar deal. But certainly not for a free fan game. This has nothing to do with whether they like it or not - they're legally bound to react this way.

I'm not sure about the 100 percent rejection rate. I do agree that the company is forced to take action if there is a trademark issue, and that the easiest action is a take-down request. But I have heard of companies giving other options available, and fan games being allowed to go ahead with trademarks removed (one of the King's Quest fan games did this, I believe). I still think the odds are slim, but I believe they're not non-existent.

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Original post by Trapper Zoid
I'm not sure about the 100 percent rejection rate. I do agree that the company is forced to take action if there is a trademark issue, and that the easiest action is a take-down request. But I have heard of companies giving other options available, and fan games being allowed to go ahead with trademarks removed (one of the King's Quest fan games did this, I believe). I still think the odds are slim, but I believe they're not non-existent.

It depends on the trigger-happyness of their legal department. Allowing the infringement carries a considerable risk for them. So even if there is a 1% chance of getting tolerated, then there is still a 99% chance of getting a CND letter from their lawyers (or even getting sued, if they have a bad day). Not worth the risk. The OP should just change the infringing names before submitting it. The worst that can happen would then be a rejection letter. But there would be no legal consequences.

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Uh...okay?

I've gotten some very varying remarks on here and other forums about game development.

Is there anything for certain about this? I know I've seen other fangames and whatnot...why are they not taken down? I simply thought I'd want to be more polite about it and whatnot without just up and going 'I made this game so get over it.' and shoving it out there. I'm not wanting to use 'Star Ocean' as my own deal. I was simply asking is it best just to choose a different name now and go original or present them with this or at least make a similar type game with similar systems, but modified greatly, and then saying 'thanks to Tri-Ace for Star Ocean which inspired this game'.

I'd call it something completely different if I have to. I don't want to be a pushover and not ask. I'm really just considering calling things different now and having it as a tribute game of sorts. The names I'm using were indeed used in their game, but also they are real angel names as well...would that be considered copyrighted to them, then?

Its getting a tad bit confusing here. Haha.

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They are by no means required to reject it, not by any stretch of the imagination.
I have some experience with this, as I worked on an open source remake of a Command & Conquer game. I contacted someone at EA, told them what we were doing, and asked for their permission. Not only did they allow us to continue, the guy I talked to actually seemed excited at the idea.

Of course many, if not most, companies won't react this way. Still, it's possible to get permission, and it's even happened on a few occasions that the company helps you out in the process!

You should contact the company fairly early. Certainly before you release anything publicly. The company can't sue you even if they are entirely opposed to it if you haven't released anything.
As for who to contact, you'll have to talk to someone at Sqaure Enix, as they're the copyright holder. It says so right on tri-Ace's website. If you really want to contact tri-Ace, then admin@tri-ace.co.jp's as good a place to start as any.

Names used in-game have nothing to do with trademark. It would then be an IP issue, and there's no legal reason that they would be forced not to allow it.

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Original post by Yann LIt depends on the trigger-happyness of their legal department. Allowing the infringement carries a considerable risk for them. So even if there is a 1% chance of getting tolerated, then there is still a 99% chance of getting a CND letter from their lawyers (or even getting sued, if they have a bad day). Not worth the risk. The OP should just change the infringing names before submitting it. The worst that can happen would then be a rejection letter. But there would be no legal consequences.

I quite agree with that. Plus it makes it look like you understand the issue from the company's point of view.

Quote:
Is there anything for certain about this? I know I've seen other fangames and whatnot...why are they not taken down? I simply thought I'd want to be more polite about it and whatnot without just up and going 'I made this game so get over it.' and shoving it out there. I'm not wanting to use 'Star Ocean' as my own deal. I was simply asking is it best just to choose a different name now and go original or present them with this or at least make a similar type game with similar systems, but modified greatly, and then saying 'thanks to Tri-Ace for Star Ocean which inspired this game'.

With fan games, you just don't know why they are there. Maybe they've got permission, but I suspect usually it's because the IP owner just doesn't know about them. Maybe they unofficially know about the projects, but know that the vast majority of these fan games never see the light of day.

The big, big danger about just going ahead with a fan game without solid permission is that if you're one of few that actually finishes the project and it's something wonderful that every fan would want to play, then you're now big enough to make a splash on the internet. The copyright owners will now hear about you, and all they have to do to kill the project is send you a cease and desist letter. There have been fan projects that have taken many man-years of work to the point of completion or almost completion only to get sunk this way.

If it's an option to go original and make a Star-Ocean-like-but-not-actually-contain-anything-from-Star-Ocean game, then I'd take it. Not only will you be in a much stronger position legally, you've got far more options to you when you complete the game. If the game is genuinely good, you might be able to sell it - which is something you will never be able to do using any form of the Star Ocean IP.

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Original post by EkIchiGames
Is there anything for certain about this? I know I've seen other fangames and whatnot...why are they not taken down?

Some companies don't know about it. Some don't care. The difference is that they can always claim they never knew about it. If you "don't know" about a challenge to your IP, you don't have to defend it (and pay legal fees, get bad press, etc). However, what you want to do, ie. telling them that you are infringing their trademarks, is running into an open knife. If there is an actual trace about them knowing, they cannot just play dumb and ignore it. They have to act.

But even not asking is not a guarantee. If they stumble upon it, and don't like it, they can still take legal action against you.

Quote:

I was simply asking is it best just to choose a different name now and go original or present them with this or at least make a similar type game with similar systems, but modified greatly, and then saying 'thanks to Tri-Ace for Star Ocean which inspired this game'.

Use a different name. Don't mention any of their trademarked names, and you should be fine.

Quote:

The names I'm using were indeed used in their game, but also they are real angel names as well...would that be considered copyrighted to them, then?

Names cannot be "copyrighted", they're trademarked. That's a big difference. Now, trademarks are only valid in certain circumstances and/or domains. Some names cannot be trademarked, others can. It also depends on local legislation. This whole domain is very complex, that's why there are lawyers specialized in it :)

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Original post by DeathRay2K
The company can't sue you even if they are entirely opposed to it if you haven't released anything.

Actually, yes, they can.

Quote:
Original post by DeathRay2K
Names used in-game have nothing to do with trademark. It would then be an IP issue, and there's no legal reason that they would be forced not to allow it.

Nonsense. You have no idea what you are talking about.

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