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Intellectual Property: Who owns what.

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[font=Arial][color=#000000]Unlike books and music where the creator is the IP owner of their work, games are made by studios. The question is why does the IP rights to a game belong to a studio and not the creators?

[color=#000000]Think of it this way: If I go out and make a game all on my own, from art to music to programming to gameplay and every other component, the game belongs to me. Is that assumption correct?

[color=#000000]If it is, then how does it change when studios come into play? Lets assume that a studio has one artist, one programmer, one audio guy (I have no idea what they are called) and one game designer. Does the game belong to all four of them in equal parts? If no, why not?

[color=#000000]Also, how does a music band work? If a band has 4 people in it, and one leaves, does the person leaving still get 25% of all royalties from all the song he was involved with before he left?

[color=#000000]Another relevant question is who owns the IP rights for original movies?

[color=#000000]When replying please provide source where possible.

[/font]

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1. why does the IP rights to a game belong to a studio and not the creators?
Unlike books and music where the creator is the IP owner of their work

2. If I go out and make a game all on my own... the game belongs to me. Is that assumption correct?

3. then how does it change when studios come into play?

4. Also, how does a music band work? If a band has 4 people in it, and one leaves, does the person leaving still get 25% of all royalties from all the song he was involved with before he left?

5. Another relevant question is who owns the IP rights for original movies?

6. When replying please provide source where possible.


1. If all the team members are owners of the studio, then they do own the IP. But they do it through the legal entity. When you join a studio as an employee, you sign away ownership of IP rights on whatever work you do while an employee.

2. Of course. Assuming nobody paid you to make the game all on your own.

3. You are ignoring publishers. Many times, the publisher pays the developer to create a game based on the publisher's overall concept, so the IP will belong to the publisher (per the ownership clause in the development agreement). Other times, the developer brings an original concept to the publisher and asks for a publishing deal in which the developer retains IP ownership.

4. It depends on the contract the band members sign. What does the contract say?

5. You do realize this website is about games (and games only), don't you?

6. No, that would be a lot of work -- and I'd be doing your research for you. What's going on, is this a school paper you're researching?

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[font="Arial"][color="#000000"]The question is why does the IP rights to a game belong to a studio and not the creators?[/font]
The studio is the creator as a legal entity. The studio hires the workers to create the game on it's behalf. As above, sometimes a publisher contracts the studio to make a game (who then contract the staff to make the game), so in those cases, the publisher owns the work. Sometimes an IP owner, like a movie company, will contract a publisher to make a game (who contracts a studio, who contracts their staff), etc...
how does it change when studios come into play?[/quote]Money. Employees. Contracts. In most countries, if you're paying someone to produce work for you, then you own what they produce.

If you and your friends started making a game (and called yourself a studio), but there were no contracts/money involved, then the IP rights would be very complicated (you would all own the bits that you each created).

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@Tom

1,2) Thanks Tom.

3) So the developers are screwed out of their IP rights the moment they make a deal with publishers? That is a little harsh.

4,5) Yea, kind off went off-tangent around here. But the weird thing is I have no idea who holds the IP for original movies, although if you ask for books and music I automatically say authors and musicians.

6) Nah. The topic crossed my mind when I was reading through Escapist Magazine's forums. There was one thread specifically asking whether piracy and selling used games is one and the same. It was a reaction towards RAGE content-locking their game and forcing the used game buyers to purchase a key to unlock it. I was thinking along the lines of "the developers collected money on the first purchase, and now they want more". That is just plain greedy, so I asked myself where did the money from first-hand game sales really go. One thing led to another and I was "researching" IP rights for a number of mediums.

@ Hodgman

If movies/books approach game studios and ask them to make games with the movie/book IP, that is understandable. The IP was created by the movie/book so the studio should have no claims over it.

Similarly, if someone is paying me to make something to fit their request, its about the same situation as the movie/book IP. I'm fine with that too.

But if I collaborate with a few people to make a game and the IP passes to the studio, I can potentially get shut out of any compensation if I get kicked out of the studio for one reason or another. I am also barred from continuing the development of a game that I started/helped create because now I don't even own one ounce of the IP rights for said game, which really, really sucks.

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But if I collaborate with a few people to make a game and the IP passes to the studio, I can potentially get shut out of any compensation if I get kicked out of the studio for one reason or another. I am also barred from continuing the development of a game that I started/helped create because now I don't even own one ounce of the IP rights for said game, which really, really sucks.
Is "the studio" a legal entity that contracted and paid you to do that work?

* If not, then "the studio" doesn't own your work at all -- you own it.
* If so, you already got the compensation that you agreed to in that contract... Builders don't get to live in the houses they're paid to build.

If a junior artist is fired from a project, should they be allowed to make a sequel? What about the lead programmer? What about one of the three main designers? What if 5 different groups were allowed to make their own sequels with the same name?

If you don't want to sell your IP rights for money, then don't sell them for money! wink.gif

[font="arial, verdana, tahoma, sans-serif"]
so I asked myself where did the money from first-hand game sales really go
That depends a lot on the specifics of the publisher/developer deal.
[/font][font="arial, verdana, tahoma, sans-serif"]Sometimes a studio won't get any money at all[/font][font="arial, verdana, tahoma, sans-serif"] from the sale of a game -- they simply get paid a lump sum for making it.[/font]
Other times, the studio/publisher's contract will specify an amount of royalties that they'll get per sale. Sometimes there's conditions on these royalties, such as the game having to sell X copies first, or the game not being late, or the game receiving a certain meta-critic score, etc...
[font="arial, verdana, tahoma, sans-serif"]
[/font]
Many times, the publisher pays the studio to create a game. Other times, the studio brings an original concept to the publisher and retains IP ownership.
[font="arial, verdana, tahoma, sans-serif"]So the developers are screwed out of their IP rights the moment they make a deal with publishers? That is a little harsh.[/quote]I think you misread Toms quote. Only if the publisher demands it, and then the developer agrees to it, such as is common when a publisher hires a studio to work for them.[/font]
[font="arial, verdana, tahoma, sans-serif"] [/font]
[font="arial, verdana, tahoma, sans-serif"]There's no 'standard' contact that says that publishers always end up owning all IP rights. Plenty of studios own their own IPs.[/font]
[font="arial, verdana, tahoma, sans-serif"]There's even some very strange cases, like with Operation:Flashpoint, where the deal involved the publisher owning the name of the IP, but the development studio owning the rights to make sequels[/font][font="arial, verdana, tahoma, sans-serif"]. This meant that their sequel legally had to be named "Arma" instead of "Flashpoint 2".[/font]

Whenever this kind of stuff happens, it's because the creators of the IP have agreed to it and have likely received compensation for it.

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So the developers are screwed out of their IP rights the moment they make a deal with publishers? That is a little harsh.
[/quote]
Well, they're agreeing to be "screwed". The publisher is offering to bankroll them, they can turn down this offer freely.


But the weird thing is I have no idea who holds the IP for original movies, although if you ask for books and music I automatically say authors and musicians.
[/quote]
It depends. Books and music can be commissioned (e.g. the score for a film). Even if you create the work yourself, you can end up signing away IP rights when want your book/album to be published.


But if I collaborate with a few people to make a game and the IP passes to the studio, I can potentially get shut out of any compensation if I get kicked out of the studio for one reason or another. I am also barred from continuing the development of a game that I started/helped create because now I don't even own one ounce of the IP rights for said game, which really, really sucks.
[/quote]
Don't sign a deal that allows that to happen then.

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You'll probably note a recurring theme here: contracts. In this sort of situation, it is wise to carefully evaluate and negotiate any contract you sign.

From some of your language, though, it almost sounds more like you are talking about the ubiquitous "gathering of hobbyists" team. In this case, absent a contract specifically transferring copyrights, each team member owns copyright on their contributions. Said team member retains ownership of those copyrights if/when he is kicked off the team, and has legal right to contest the team's usage of those copyrighted materials if such should arise.

Only in a contractually cemented business relationship are copyrights transferred. Of course, in some situations, I believe that verbal agreements (especially those with evidence of the agreement, such as email exchanges) might constitute a transfer of copyright, so the actual legal situation could become complex and difficult to sort out. Should the game go commercial, and some formerly evicted member choose to file a copyright violation claim against it, it would be wise to keep all email and written exchanges that might provide a verbal contractual basis for use of such assets, and have a lawyer standing by to sort out the mess.

Of course, I am not a lawyer, so grain of salt everything I said.

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3) So the developers are screwed out of their IP rights the moment they make a deal with publishers?
6) Nah. The topic crossed my mind when I was reading through Escapist Magazine's forums. ...I asked myself where did the money from first-hand game sales really go. One thing led to another and I was "researching" IP rights for a number of mediums.
7. But if I collaborate with a few people to make a game and the IP passes to the studio, I can potentially get shut out of any compensation if I get kicked out of the studio for one reason or another.
8. I am also barred from continuing the development of a game that I started/helped create because now I don't even own one ounce of the IP rights for said game...


3. I never implied or said anything of the kind. You're saying that an artist who sells his painting was "screwed" out of the painting. I imagine the artist getting a marshall to help him recover "his" property from the painting's buyer. Then does the artist get to also keep the money the buyer paid for it? Who got screwed then?

6. Then why your request for citations? Sure sounded like scholastic research to me.

7. Depends on what your contract says. And assumes that the game is going to earn compensation.

8. Depends on what your contract says.


It depends. Books and music can be commissioned (e.g. the score for a film). Even if you create the work yourself, you can end up signing away IP rights when want your book/album to be published.


Which is what I guess happened to the original authors of "Mah Jong, Anyone?" The publisher contracted me to write additional material for the book, and the latest editions of the book now list me as a third author. I assume the original authors must have signed away the rights to the publisher, in order for that to have happened. When I later wrote my own book, "The Red Dragon and the West Wind," my contract did not sign away the rights to the publisher.

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@Hodgman
[color="#1C2837"]If you don't want to sell your IP rights for money, then don't sell them for money! [/quote]
Fair enough.
[color="#1C2837"][font="arial, verdana, tahoma, sans-serif"] [/font]
[font="arial, verdana, tahoma, sans-serif"]That depends a lot on the specifics of the publisher/developer deal.
[/font][font="arial, verdana, tahoma, sans-serif"]Sometimes a studio won't get any money at all[/font][font="arial, verdana, tahoma, sans-serif"] from the sale of a game -- they simply get paid a lump sum for making it.[/font]
Other times, the studio/publisher's contract will specify an amount of royalties that they'll get per sale. Sometimes there's conditions on these royalties, such as the game having to sell X copies first, or the game not being late, or the game receiving a certain meta-critic score, etc...[/quote]
[color="#1C2837"]Publishers practically rule the game industry. Not only can they squeeze IP rights from devs, they can also charge players for second-hand games. That is just pure greed.
[color="#1C2837"]
[color="#1C2837"]I think you misread Toms quote. Only if the publisher demands it, and then the developer agrees to it, such as is common when a publisher hires a studio to work for them.[color="#1C2837"][/quote]
[color="#1C2837"]Yea, I did.
[color="#1C2837"][font="arial, verdana, tahoma, sans-serif"] [/font]
[font="arial, verdana, tahoma, sans-serif"]There's no 'standard' contact that says that publishers always end up owning all IP rights. Plenty of studios own their own IPs.[/font]
[font="arial, verdana, tahoma, sans-serif"]There's even some very strange cases, like with Operation:Flashpoint, where the deal involved the publisher owning the name of the IP, but the development studio owning the rights to make sequels[/font][font="arial, verdana, tahoma, sans-serif"]. This meant that their sequel legally had to be named "Arma" instead of "Flashpoint 2".[/font][/quote][font="arial, verdana, tahoma, sans-serif"] [/font]
[color="#1C2837"]That is interesting. So developers do have some leverage against publishers. But that raises another point: normally, when you say "sequel", it usually looks like "Something Game 1/2/3/4"; or it can look like "Game X: The something else", [color="#1C2837"]"Game X: The other thing" and such. The Flashpoint series stayed true to the second type of sequel naming. On the other hand, if you name the sequel "Arma", first time players wouldn't even know its a sequel (or the second game of the series if they played Arma first). If you take the name away, is that really a "right to make sequels"? Or am I missing something here?



@rip-off
[color="#1C2837"]
Well, they're agreeing to be "screwed". The publisher is offering to bankroll them, they can turn down this offer freely.[/quote]
[color="#1c2837"]If you turn away and you do not have sufficient resources to develop the IP on your own, your IP is worthless. If you bow down to the bankrollers, your IP gains value, but you lose the IP. A hard place and a rock, eh?
[color="#1C2837"][color="#000000"][color="#1C2837"]
It depends. Books and music can be commissioned (e.g. the score for a film). Even if you create the work yourself, you can end up signing away IP rights when want your book/album to be published.[/quote]
[color="#1C2837"]Seriously, publishers have it good, taking IPs left, right and center.


[color="#1c2837"]@JTippetts
[color="#1c2837"]This reminds me of Team Bondi and the whistleblowers. If their story is to be believed, there are people who worked on the game, couldn't take the pressure, decides to leave, and have their names removed from the credits. Is that even possible? Shouldn't they get partial credit for the work they have already contributed to the game? I refuse to believe they signed a document saying "you can remove my name from the credits if I quit halfway through the project". That is just nasty.

@Tom
3) I misread that. I thought you meant the one retaining the IP in the second half was the publisher, not the developers. My bad.
On the artist part, I think the artist still retained the right to reproduce copies of the same painting, so he don't really have to get back his first painting. On the other hand, the publisher/developer relation is akin to being paid for the painting produce and then being forbidden from reproducing it. If the developer refused to give up his IP rights, he doesn't get work. It may be legal, but somehow I cannot see this as being ethical/morally right. The developer just don't seem to have a valid choice. Its either draw or die. And their compensation is a pittance compared to what the publisher earns from the developer's work.
(Now that I look at it this way, maybe I should retract my previous statement about being fine with giving up my IP for the things I was paid to make.)

6) I like to read and I am inherently curious, so if there are any citations at all I would love to click those footnotes and see what new things I can find. I started with a simple RAGE reaction thread and end up going into some law-ish reading materials. Fun stuff.

7) Point taken.

8) You're saying I might still have a claim despite the IP being held under the studio's name?

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8) You're saying I might still have a claim despite the IP being held under the studio's name?
9. [color="#1C2837"]Publishers practically rule the game industry. Not only can they squeeze IP rights from devs,
10. If the developer refused to give up his IP rights, he doesn't get work.
11. It may be legal, but somehow I cannot see this as being ethical/morally right.
12. The developer just don't seem to have a valid choice. Its either draw or die.
13. And their compensation is a pittance compared to what the publisher earns from the developer's work.


8. What are you talking about? What did you do, what ownership do you claim? What does it say in your contract with the studio?

9. So to you, when someone buys a painting from an artist, he's "squeezing" the artist. The artist is being "forced" to sell his painting. The buyer is holding a gun to the artist's head, according to you.

10. Who told you that? We all told you "negotiate."

11. Your "feelings" do not have any validity in the law. And they are probably based on another misunderstanding of what we're telling you.

12. That is not true. He can either draw, not draw, do something else, go to somebody else, negotiate.

13. Whoa, back up there. The publisher SPENDS a lot of money to get the money they earn from the deal. If the developer doesn't want the deal, they don't have to do it. The developer can publish the title themselves.

Consider a triple-A game. Publisher pays developer $50M to do the game. Publisher spends $50M to market the game. Publisher pays platform holder $10 or $11 per unit to manufacture the game (platform holder royalties boost the price tenfold from the actual manufacturing cost). Publisher pays for all the shipping. So the publisher has to make all that money back from the sales of the product, and after those costs are recouped, the developer gets a percentage (maybe 25%-35%) of further sales.

If the developer doesn't think that's fair, they don't have to sign the deal.

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