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Seeking advice about protecting my ideas/IP

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Edit:  As the thread title states, I'm looking for actual, detailed advice, not yes/no lists.  If you're going to answer my questions, please do elaborate and leave some detailed answers that both answer my questions as well as give me some advice about how I should proceed. What I should do now and what I should do later. Do I need a trademark? Do I need to form a company before I start releasing anything? When it comes to protecting a fantasy world IP, how would I go about getting a copyright on something like that? It's obviously quite different from simply copyrighting one story, since a world concept is always changing and I can imagine the laws would work a bit differently. Etc. etc.  Please describe the plan you think I should follow to have the best chance of protecting my IP.  Both in my own country and abroad. Thank you for your time. 
 
 
Hello, I'm an amateur game dev who's been working, in my spare time, for some years now on developing some games. Classic RPG's mostly.  I feel like I'm reaching a point where I may be ready to start releasing some games beyond my close circle of friends. 
 
I would say I'm a relatively creative person and probably more of a fiction writer than a game dev... I'm much more into story development than programming, for example. I have a friend who works with me and handles a lot of the programming side of things. 
 
I've spent several years developing a very detailed and immersive fantasy world which I use as the setting for my games and stories.  
 
So, this brings me to my dilemma...
 
I'm very protective of my ideas and IP, as most writers and artists would be. I've put years of my life into it. So, I'm very concerned about releasing games (some of which may be free) and having my ideas/IP stolen. 
 
I realize good ideas are pretty easy to come by and there's 7 billion other people out there that may (and probably are) better at world building and game design than me... and that I probably don't have too much to worry about realistically. However, this doesn't ease my fears in the slightest.  I'm just a writer that wants to tell my stories and share my world with others while using a medium I highly respect... without some larger company or random scam artists coming along and stealing it all away from me. 
 
I do plan to always fully manage every aspect of my rpg projects myself.  
 
I currently live in the U.S. but my game releases would probably be mostly digital downloads online. 
 
 
My Questions:
 
1. How should I go about legally protecting my IP and my stories and characters in general and for the long term?  
 
 
2. What should I do in the short term to protect my IP before I start releasing games that use my IP as a setting?
 
 
3. In preparation for worst case scenarios, how should I go about making sure my IP is protected from team members or contractors who may work with me for a while then decide to take my ideas and run?  
 
 
4.  Is my IP always legally separate from any art, music or programming I hire someone else to do for the games?  Is there any way that an artist or programmer can legally argue that they hold some legal rights to my IP because they supplied art, music or programming skills to it? If so, is there any way to avoid this trap? 
 
 
5. Since I would be releasing games for download online... is it possible that someone from some other country could try to steal the rights to my IP and get away with it because of different laws?  If so, is there any way to prevent this? 
 
 
6. Do I really need to hire or consult with a lawyer or some sort of legal consultant about this first?  If so, what sort of legal professional should I look for? 
 
 
7.  Anything else I should know about the legalities of IP ownership or watch out for?  Helpful advice is appreciated. 
 
 
I know some of these questions are probably pretty basic but I'd be the first to say that I'm a writer not a lawyer. I wouldn't be asking legal questions in the first place if I knew anything about this. So I would really appreciate some helpful answers and advice. 
 
 
Thanks for the help! 

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Sorry, I hope I don't come across as rude, but please don't add to previous posts. If you have more questions or need more clarification based off answers given, then please ask in a new post. Going back and editing the post just makes it confusing for the other members to keep track of especially if this had taken off and been more than one page.

 

Honestly, I believe taking some time to read through Tom's site is a great idea as it has a wealth of knowledge. Also maybe invest in a book or such on copyrights, trademarks, and such.

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please don't add to previous posts. If you have more questions or need more clarification based off answers given, then please ask in a new post. Going back and editing the post just makes it confusing for the other members


For sure! Now I have to look and see if I have the questions were changed:
 

1. How should I go about legally protecting my IP and my stories and characters in general and for the long term?
2. What should I do in the short term to protect my IP before I start releasing games that use my IP as a setting?
3. In preparation for worst case scenarios, how should I go about making sure my IP is protected from team members or contractors who may work with me for a while then decide to take my ideas and run?
4. Is my IP always legally separate from any art, music or programming I hire someone else to do for the games? Is there any way that an artist or programmer can legally argue that they hold some legal rights to my IP because they supplied art, music or programming skills to it? If so, is there any way to avoid this trap?
5. Since I would be releasing games for download online... is it possible that someone from some other country could try to steal the rights to my IP and get away with it because of different laws? If so, is there any way to prevent this?
6. Do I really need to hire or consult with a lawyer or some sort of legal consultant about this first? If so, what sort of legal professional should I look for?


Pretty sure I answered all of these before. Document and date your creations. Register your copyright. Get a game attorney to write a good contract and get your contributors to sign it. There's a list of game attorneys stickied to the top of this forum. http://www.gamedev.net/topic/644761-game-attorneys/

If you have new questions, please post them below.

Edit: found more new questions in the edited original post:

If you're going to answer my questions, please do elaborate


I don't wanna. I wrote http://www.sloperama.com/advice/lesson39.htm so I wouldn't have to retype the information a kajillion times.

1. Do I need a trademark?
2. Do I need to form a company before I start releasing anything?
3. When it comes to protecting a fantasy world IP, how would I go about getting a copyright on something like that?


1. No. You'll have one when you release your game, and you can register it after that (read a book, or read USPTO.gov).
2. No. Reading: http://www.gamedev.net/topic/657160-next-step-making-a-company/
3. Go to copyright.gov and download a form. Edited by Tom Sloper

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Tom's responses (even the yes/no ones) seem to fit the questions very accurately and do seem to answer your posted questions. That's one of the benefits of conversations, though: You can ask follow-up questions to hone in on the details you are looking for, if the answers he gave didn't resolve all the questions in your mind. 

 

Do you not understand the answers, do you simply not like the answers (even if they are true), or do you have additional questions?

 

With legal questions, it's very case-by-case-specific, and is often a question of not whether you should or should not do something, but at what point you should or should not take a specific action. Very very blurry grey lines that makes it so you have to make informed decisions, instead of just following checklists of "do's" and "don'ts".

 

For example, the amount of time and money you should invest in legal precautions for this project would depend how how valuable this project is, and how serious this project's legal risks are.

 

 

 

I'm very protective of my ideas and IP, as most writers and artists would be. I've put years of my life into it. So, I'm very concerned about releasing games (some of which may be free) and having my ideas/IP stolen. 

 

I will say this: People steal ideas. It can't be avoided. But they can't steal your creativity. Your ability to produce ideas of higher quality and greater originality than the knockoffs, and your ability to produce more ideas when the previous ideas get stolen.

 

I'm not saying don't fight back when you notice something being stolen, but I am saying don't get so locked up in fear that one specific idea might get stolen that you forget that you can make more ideas. No single one of your creations should be so valuable to you that you tie up your own worth with the value of that one idea. Even if previous ideas get stolen, each new project you work on should (ideally, but perhaps not always) be better and higher quality than the previous ones. If companies or individuals are going to be following you to steal your works and try to knock off your creations, let them fight in the past (and let your lawyers fight with them, when you are successful enough to afford lawyers) as you march onward with each new bigger and better project.

 

Knockoff products can't be made overnight - it takes at least half a year and often more to make a game, so that gives your product not only a sizable headstart in the market, they get bad PR for being knockoffs (or else are in a market you're not even currently serving! China, for example), and the fastest they get their knockoff out there, the worst quality it actually is, further positioning your product as the higher-quality alternative.

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One important note:  all of the legal protection in the world won't be of any use what-so-ever unless you also have the money to go to court and defend your rights if someone infringes.

 

In addition to Tom's answers and excellent website, you might check out the following for some additional reading:

 

Hope that helps! :)

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If you need more 'specifics' I would recommend getting in touch with a lawyer. It should be your first stop.

No matter how 'friendly' we can be, none of us is legally liable in case any advice here is incorrect. 

Tom's given you very valuable intel to start from, now you need a lawyer. Get one. Seriously.

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