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Copying An Existing Idea

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Hi,

 

So, assume there is a game. Also assume that the law stuff would allow you to copy it, share it, use it etc. Now assume you take this, port it to another plattform, aybe tweak it a bit and then release it as a commercial product.

 

Do you think that's a bad move without asking the guy who had the initial idea? I mean, isn't it basically stealing?

 

[I'm not going to do it since I don't have any proper skilsl for such a product at this moment - just a question about moral/ethics. :)]

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Cloning an idea happens regularly. How ethical it is depends on a lot of things - your own personal idea of what is ethical, how unique the idea is, how significant those 'tweaks' were, whether the clone is likely to harm or inconvenience the person that originated the idea, etc.

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xotix, I moved your question to the Business/Law forum. You should read the FAQs and the other recent
threads about this same question.

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Also assume that the law stuff would allow you to copy it, share it, use it etc. Now assume you take this, port it to another plattform, aybe tweak it a bit and then release it as a commercial product.

 

The first sentence here basically invalidates the asking of the question in the second. Generally it's the law that restricts what kind of copying you can do with a game, and you're asking us to assume away all encumbrances that would arise from those laws. So in that case, sure, it's totally fine because you're living in a magical fantasy land where IP law doesn't exist.

 

If you want a more realistic answer you should probably clarify what exactly you are assuming about what rights you're granted, what exactly you mean by "porting," and so on.

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This sounds like you might want to for example take an open source game such as a GPL game and close the source and release your own version.

If you've never even looked at the source of the open version you can probably get away with it, and your game is therefore a clone not a fork.

If your going to take the source, put your name on it, tweak the gameplay, it's a fork and you need to still obey the license which might for example mean you must share your modified source.

Always, always, aways READ THE LICENSE lest the repercussions bite you in the ass.

Good luck!

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So, assume there is a game. Also assume that the law stuff would allow you to copy it, share it, use it etc. Now assume you take this, port it to another plattform, aybe tweak it a bit and then release it as a commercial product.

 

Being granted a license to use/share/distribute a software product freely (as in freeware or shareware) doesn't grant you any license to make derivative works of said product. Some kinds of freely-available software, such as "open source" software give you all of these rights, but usually on a conditional basis. For example, the GNU license, among other things, says that you can modify the software and distribute your modifications or modified versions, but you must not close your source code, you must not remove or modify the license, and you must contribute your modifications back to the original project so they can be integrated there (though they might not be); Also, you give up your copyright on the code you've added. Other licenses, give you different rights and require different things of you in return. Also, be aware that the license governing the source code may not be the same license governing other program assets like graphics or sound -- even if the source code may be modified and distributed, it does not imply that the same is true of other program assets.

 

As for where the legal and ethical lines lie its less concrete. Legally speaking, copyright laws do not protect ideas but do protect a particular expression of an idea; which is necessarily subjective matter in ways that other kinds of torts are not. Recent court rulings have resulted in damages being awarded in cases where clone products were effectively identical in all but aesthetic differences. Read up on the Tripple Town / Yeti Town lawsuite as an example. Basically, the judge ruled for damages because Yeti Town was a direct clone, down to the rules, item function, and general progression of play. Still, this is not cut-and-dried, because there's no clear consensus on how much sharing of rules, item function, or progression constitutes a clone.

 

Also, copyright law is absolutely clear that you cannot create derivative works which steal characters, settings, specific premises or other established elements of a creative work for your own; so don't do that in any case.

 

Ethically, I'd say you're best steering clear of clones and near-clones, even if you change up the artistic elements, characters, etc. Take inspiration, pay homage -- hell, even satirize -- but don't copy. For me, and what I've always advised, is that if your work doesn't stand on its own merits, then its not really your own, and furthermore don't do anything you'd be upset by if the shoe were on the other foot (also, trying to imagine that on this other foot, the product being cloned might be feeding someone's family). If you avoid those things, you don't have an ethical duty to even ask -- it can be a nice gesture, but be aware that if you get a polite "Thanks for asking, but no.", and you then cloned or heavily borrowed from them anyways, you've given them great ammunition to go after you with in court, if they decided to -- and they could tell you no and later go after you even if they don't have solid legal grounds to stand on. If you ask, you need to abide by the terms you're given.

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copying an idea - usually not a problem. There might still be patents, even on hilariously stupid stuff (like Wizard of the coasts patents on some of the magic mechanics). In general though, you can create another threes game, or a jump and run mechanic just as used in Super Mario Bros.

 

copying a games art assets, code or story - Bad idea. That is protected by copyright. You might get away with it, its still against the law, and if the original IP holder finds out he has to go against you (else he will at some point risk to lose his copyright). Best case they send you a cease and desist letter... worst case you get sued.

So just don't do it, and come up with original ideas for story, art and write your own code.... OR aquire all those things legally from a third party, which means either buying it or getting open sourced stuff.

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Do you think that's a bad move without asking the guy who had the initial idea? I mean, isn't it basically stealing?

 

You have to define what you mean by "idea". Separate "idea" from the work used to implement the idea. Are you taking someone's work and profiting off it? That's one direction that morals can be explored - sometimes it's fine, othertimes it's not; it depends.

 

As for ideas itself, historically, ideas are seen as public goods. For example "machine that harvests wheat so humans don't have to". That's an idea. Everyone is then free to compete trying to inventdesign, engineer, and build, such a machine.

 

It's that inventing, designing, engineering, and building, that is protected by law. It's generally considered acceptable to compete by taking ideas and coming up with your own implementations.

 

In some countries (most of the western world), it's not considered acceptable to steal the implementation until the author has had X number of decades to profit from it. Implementations is what patents and copyrights cover (patents cover processes, copyrights cover designs - processes ("how to build") and designs ("what to build") are implementations of ideas - but the ideas themselves aren't protected. This is a very simplistic overview, it's more in-depth than that).

 

Essentially, vague ideas ("a ninja that fights someone", "a machine that harvests grain") are fair-game, but the more implementation you take (Naruto, the specific machinery that runs a tractor), the more it's frowned upon - by law and by (western) humans.

 

This copyrights and patents are a decision Westerners made several hundred years ago, for the benefit of the public, recognizing that letting creators have a period of profit encourages creators to create.

 

(copyrights and patents do get abused by corporations due to problems in our legal system, and need to be re-balanced, but the core idea behind them has been beneficial to everyone including the public)

 

So basically, are you taking a game (loads of someone else's work) and merely tweaking a few things, or are you taking the idea behind a game, and creating something different? There is a wide range of degrees there, and unless you narrow down to specifics, discussions of legalities and moralities is pointless. And since copyright and patents are a purely human invention, the morality discussion partly takes the form of "are you a law unto yourself, or do you live alongside other humans under common guidelines of interaction".

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Also assume that the law stuff would allow you to copy it, share it, use it etc. Now assume you take this, port it to another plattform, aybe tweak it a bit and then release it as a commercial product.

 

The first sentence here basically invalidates the asking of the question in the second. Generally it's the law that restricts what kind of copying you can do with a game, and you're asking us to assume away all encumbrances that would arise from those laws. So in that case, sure, it's totally fine because you're living in a magical fantasy land where IP law doesn't exist.

 

If you want a more realistic answer you should probably clarify what exactly you are assuming about what rights you're granted, what exactly you mean by "porting," and so on.

 

 

It's a question to you personal. To your ethics/moral. At least for me, the law doesn't map my moral/ethics at all - and I hope that's true for you too. If I would do it, I'd contect him and ask him, maybe ask him to help me, just because he came up with this idea.

 

I'm not talking about reusing code etc., it's really just about the intellectual property (also assume law is with you)

 

Thanks for the answers, interesting to read. I'll sure search the FAQ's and other threas for this topic. :)

 

TO clarify: What I mean is e.g.: Assume Super Mario was the first Jump'n'Run. You now do a game, which also is 2D and has a level which goes from left to right and you jum around, collecting stuff, beating monsters. Like there are dozends of such games. Another Example would be line rider. But instead of the sled you are going to use seomthign else, might add a few elements etc - but the main mechanics (a player dragged down on a self painted rack) is baisically the same. (all developed by you)

 

I mean such things. :) As I said, I'm a noob when it comes to game dev and I'm not going to do clone anything (or more specific: I'm not planning releasing anything). I just thought it would be a nice discussion since you see a lot of such clones.

Edited by xotix

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the law doesn't map my moral/ethics at all - and I hope that's true for you too


If the law doesn't map to your ethics at all, you might ask yourself 2 questions:
1) Why does society think so differently to me?
2) Am I misunderstanding why the laws are this way?

For example, the reason the law does not protect ideas from copying is not because they don't value creativity, but because having an idea is such a nebulous concept that protecting them would basically mean everybody who made something would be continually getting sued by someone else who claimed to have thought of it first, or who did something vaguely similar once.

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