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Old game clones and copyright

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Hello,

I want to create a clone of an old arcade/Atari/C64 game, one I was very fond of many years ago and doesn't exist anymore (except via emulators). I want to do it mostly for self entertainment and learning experience (never done games before) but I may decide I want to put it on the Apple App Store (it's iOS game) in the future, assuming it ever sees completion.

By definition, a "clone" is something that has some degree of similarity to the original game, I wonder how much of that similarity is legal. Obviously, I don't want to step over any legal issues, so my questions are about what parts of the game content and design are protected by copyright (or similar laws).

I assume I can't just copy the game's name or use it as part of my game's name, is that given and automatic? Or the name needs to be somehow explicitly protected (like by trademark)?

What about content? I know can't just use art from it (not that I really wanted to) but if I recreate the art myself that looks much like the original, is that legal? How much different needs my art to be?

What about other content elements? Can I reuse character names? Places? Scenes?

And finally, design and gameplay . I think I read once that gameplay elements can't be copyrighted. Is that correct? Am I allowed to recreated the exact same game experience? If not, how much different needs it to be?


Of course, I don't expect to get a real legal counseling on a forum for free. But I was hoping maybe someone here was debating the same questions and maybe can shed some light on the subject or point me to the right direction where these issues are covered?

Thanks!

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Original post by barduck

Hello,

I want to create a clone of an old arcade/Atari/C64 game, one I was very fond of many years ago and doesn't exist anymore (except via emulators). I want to do it mostly for self entertainment and learning experience (never done games before) but I may decide I want to put it on the Apple App Store (it's iOS game) in the future, assuming it ever sees completion.

By definition, a "clone" is something that has some degree of similarity to the original game, I wonder how much of that similarity is legal. Obviously, I don't want to step over any legal issues, so my questions are about what parts of the game content and design are protected by copyright (or similar laws).

I assume I can't just copy the game's name or use it as part of my game's name, is that given and automatic? Or the name needs to be somehow explicitly protected (like by trademark)?

What about content? I know can't just use art from it (not that I really wanted to) but if I recreate the art myself that looks much like the original, is that legal? How much different needs my art to be?

What about other content elements? Can I reuse character names? Places? Scenes?

And finally, design and gameplay . I think I read once that gameplay elements can't be copyrighted. Is that correct? Am I allowed to recreated the exact same game experience? If not, how much different needs it to be?


Of course, I don't expect to get a real legal counseling on a forum for free. But I was hoping maybe someone here was debating the same questions and maybe can shed some light on the subject or point me to the right direction where these issues are covered?

Thanks!


The game name is protected by trademarks which normally has to be applied for, if you tries to make the art look like the original it would most likely count as a copy/derivative work, the same goes for characters(You can definitly name your main character Gordon for example without infringing on the half-life IP, if he is also a crowbar wielding physicist working at the black mesa research facility you might get in trouble).

gameplay elements are not covered by copyright but things like leveldesign are so in most cases you can't legally recreate the exact same game experience without recieving permission.

As a rule of thumb, don't copy anything, feel free to get inspiration and ideas from others but try to make something unique out of it.

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Original post by barduck
Of course, I don't expect to get a real legal counseling on a forum for free. But I was hoping maybe someone here was debating the same questions and maybe can shed some light on the subject or point me to the right direction where these issues are covered?

This question has been asked and answered here dozens of times. Just look back. The forum tools give you the ability to view older posts than the default timespan. And read Frequently Asked Question #61: http://www.sloperama.com/advice/faq61.htm

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Original post by Tom Sloper
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Original post by barduck
Of course, I don't expect to get a real legal counseling on a forum for free. But I was hoping maybe someone here was debating the same questions and maybe can shed some light on the subject or point me to the right direction where these issues are covered?

This question has been asked and answered here dozens of times. Just look back. The forum tools give you the ability to view older posts than the default timespan. And read Frequently Asked Question #61: http://www.sloperama.com/advice/faq61.htm



I did try to find previous threads on the subject but apparently I wasn't doing a good job at that.

Anyway, that faq entry and the links that it points to are exactly what I was looking for, thanks.


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Original post by barduck
By definition, a "clone" is something that has some degree of similarity to the original game, I wonder how much of that similarity is legal. Obviously, I don't want to step over any legal issues, so my questions are about what parts of the game content and design are protected by copyright (or similar laws).

Copyright law prevents direct copying but also the creation of "derivative works". Making a game based on another game would constitute a derivative work and would thus be a breach of copyright. Of course you would only get caught if it was an obvious derivative work (you used a lot of the characters/locations etc from the original).

Quote:
I assume I can't just copy the game's name or use it as part of my game's name, is that given and automatic? Or the name needs to be somehow explicitly protected (like by trademark)?

Trademark protection for names and logos is automatic so you would not be able to use the name. Trademarks remain in force indefinitely as long as they are being used to trade. If the company is no longer selling the game then the trademark may have lapsed so you may actually be allowed to use it provided sufficient time has passed.

Quote:
What about content? I know can't just use art from it (not that I really wanted to) but if I recreate the art myself that looks much like the original, is that legal? How much different needs my art to be?

Creating art based on that of an existing copyright work would be either direct copyright infringement or the creation of a derivative work and as such not legal.

Quote:
What about other content elements? Can I reuse character names? Places? Scenes?

No

Quote:
And finally, design and gameplay . I think I read once that gameplay elements can't be copyrighted. Is that correct? Am I allowed to recreated the exact same game experience? If not, how much different needs it to be?

Yes and no. Ideas can not be protected. Nintendo made a game with a plumber who jumps on things to kill them and eats mushrooms that change his size. Individually these ideas can not be protected. You can make a puzzle game or a racing game that features a plumber (provided he doesn't look like Mario as his image is copyright). Or have a game where eating mushrooms (or cakes or lamb chops) changes the size of your character. Killing bad guys by jumping on them is also fine.... however if you put all these elements together into a platform game you are getting close to creating something that is identifiably similar to Nintendo's creation and thus risk legal problems.

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