Games and Copyright

I don’t know why exactly I think about this stuff, but I do. My actual legal knowledge on these matters is very limited and probably somewhat antiquated, but I did do a course on IPR at the university (some 10 years ago).

Suppose you have a great game of – say – Fiasco. Everything goes as its supposed to and a great story emerges. Then, afterwards, one of you uses that and writes a short story, which he or she publishes. Can he or she do that? Well, under Finnish law it isn’t a work of art (and under Finnish law it doesn’t strictly have to be art either) until its recorded in whatever way that particular artform records stuff. Therefore, no-one at the table had any intellectual property rights to anything that happened.

This isn’t actually new. In chess its been long held that no-one has the rights to games, even if you did play it in front of a camera. The games can be freely published in any format and they often are, in both books and as instructional parts of chess computer games. Of course, who ever captured the game on film has the rights to that footage, which feels pretty absurd.

Its probably good for the game that we have free access to all these games. Otherwise the evolution of the theory would probably have been stunted, if each published would have to track down the rights to maybe hundreds of games and probably pay for them as well. Who would care to publish any anymore?

Same goes for Magic: the Gathering. Decks are free for everyone. They are someone’s work of art and thus should be someone’s intellectual property. As I understand it WotC has somehow subverted this by claiming ownership of all decklists, but I don’t think that would actually work in many countries. Still, its better if we all have access to these lists and the game can grow and evolve as new players have access to this information. Its also very hard to prove your list is actually new and unique, when there’s 20 or so million players worldwide.

So, should players and the GM have some rights to their game? Well, as I understand it, players and the GM do have rights to everything they write down (or otherwise record) regarding the game. Characters on sheets are someones intellectual property. However, anything beyond that would just overly complicate the issue. We don’t want to make anyone jump unnecessary hoops just to make art. You probably shouldn’t just use someone elses player character without permission, just like you shouldn’t use characters off of a TV show or a movie in your work without permission (although, I’m not going to argue against fanfic).

I would like to promote fairness. If you feel the other participants in a game had enough input, at least give them credit. If you make a shitload of money (I don’t know how, but I guess its theoretically possible), maybe you should do something for your friends.

I don’t think legislation on this should be as fuzzy and based on the good nature of people, but I do think people should take care of their sources of inspiration.

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