Legally Creating a Derivative Work (Hooray, Copyright Law!)

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StrengthInFaith
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Legally Creating a Derivative Work (Hooray, Copyright Law!)

Postby StrengthInFaith » Mon Dec 07, 2009 2:49 am UTC

Hello, everyone. I've run into a problem concerning U.S. copyright law, and am hoping y'all can give me a bit of advice.

I would like to develop a game based around a rather major franchise. I would also like to distribute the game for free; I don't want to make any money off it. I have a feeling, though, that accomplishing this will be rather tricky.

What would it take to use the copyrighted material in my game? Receiving permission from the corporation holding the copyrights seems mandatory, but what else will be involved? Will I have to pay fees? If so, how substantial could they become? Do I need to obtain permission before starting development, or only before releasing the game to the public?

Is there any chance I could distribute the game for free? The more I think about it, the less I'm sure. The Aforementioned Corporation allowing me to distribute a game:
1) Featuring their copyrighted materials,
2) Based off a popular franchise that has generated a lot of profit, and
3) That could take interest away from their money-earning games
for free seems pretty unlikely. On the other hand, if they've given me permission to use the copyrighted materials in my game, do I have the right to do what I will with the finished product? Beats me. :(

Any advice would be greatly, greatly appreciated. Is what I'm considering a Totally Silly Thing That People Don't Really Do? Let me know!

(As a small disclaimer, I'm not meaning to be vain. :oops: I know the chances of a game I develop being spectacularly good/popular are spectacularly low. It's a project I'd love to pursue, at least very least, for fun and as a learning experience. But I want to do it legally. And on the off chance that the game is kinda-sorta-okay, I wouldn't mind letting other people have fun playing it.)

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Re: Legally Creating a Derivative Work (Hooray, Copyright Law!)

Postby Sir_Elderberry » Mon Dec 07, 2009 3:11 am UTC

Alright, I just got done reading Free Culture. I should know this. I think you'd have to contact the copyright holders, and they decide what it costs, and if they want to say it'll be seven billion dollars, that's their legal right. If they want to say "No, you can't do anything with our property", that's also their legal right.
Do I need to obtain permission before starting development, or only before releasing the game to the public?

Well, if they don't know you're developing anything, they can hardly be mad at you. But you'd be wasting a lot of time if, as soon as you mention it, a cease-and-desist order shows up.

I also want to immediately caution you that it's highly likely you won't be allowed to use their stuff at all. Consider finding lawyer-friendly substitutes.
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Jacque
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Re: Legally Creating a Derivative Work (Hooray, Copyright Law!)

Postby Jacque » Mon Dec 07, 2009 6:12 am UTC

Well, you can do whatever with whatever IP you want, as long as you are the only person that ever sees it. As soon as you want to open it up to for public consumption, you're up shit creek.

I can remember one particular instance where a team of people developed a expansion or some sort of fan written epilogue with some pretty big game IP, and they were going to release it for free for other fans to enjoy. They got shut down hard after 95% of the work had been completed and they started to spread word about their game.

Big franchise game companies are unbelievably reluctant to allow anyone to use their IP if they are not in direct control over the final output as they do not want to dilute their brand.

I would wholly recommend against this plan of action.

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Re: Legally Creating a Derivative Work (Hooray, Copyright Law!)

Postby fyrenwater » Mon Dec 07, 2009 7:10 am UTC

Captain Ersatz and Lawyer Friendly Cameo say hi.

Also, some big companies don't do much about fan games, which is why there's a hojillion hacks, Flash versions, and mods of Super Mario World, Half-Life, Doom, etc. It depends on what, though. Others will sue you for way more than you'd ever make in a lifetime. Care to name the franchise so we have a better idea of how this could end?
...It made more sense in my head.

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StrengthInFaith
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Re: Legally Creating a Derivative Work (Hooray, Copyright Law!)

Postby StrengthInFaith » Mon Dec 07, 2009 1:16 pm UTC

Jacque wrote:I can remember one particular instance where a team of people developed a expansion or some sort of fan written epilogue with some pretty big game IP, and they were going to release it for free for other fans to enjoy. They got shut down hard after 95% of the work had been completed and they started to spread word about their game.


Ouch. Yeah, that's something I'd definitely like to avoid.

fyrenwater wrote:Captain Ersatz and Lawyer Friendly Cameo say hi.


I had never met them! Unfortunately, it would take a ridiculous amount of Ersatz-ing to make the game distinct enough to be "original". :(

fyrenwater wrote:Care to name the franchise so we have a better idea of how this could end?


Halo, owned by the wonderful people at Microsoft. I have a feeling this makes things that much more unlikely. But thank y'all for the advice! It's helped quite a bit. :)

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Dropzone
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Re: Legally Creating a Derivative Work (Hooray, Copyright Law!)

Postby Dropzone » Mon Dec 07, 2009 6:51 pm UTC

Actually, you might be in luck, because Microsoft's rules for this sort of thing are surprisingly lenient. By the looks of it, as long as you obey their guidelines (include the correct attribution, etc.), you should be fine to just go ahead and do it without having to pay for a license or anything. There's one thing that might trip you up: using the word "Halo" in the game's title would probably be considered trademark infringement, because it might make people think it's an official Halo product. So to avoid that, rather than calling it "Halo: Super Explodey" or whatever, just call it "Super Explodey" and then say that it's an unofficial game based on Halo® (which should be acceptable under trademark law because it's a factual statement).

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StrengthInFaith
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Re: Legally Creating a Derivative Work (Hooray, Copyright Law!)

Postby StrengthInFaith » Mon Dec 07, 2009 7:33 pm UTC

Wow! I'm very (and pleasantly) surprised. Thank you so much for that link, Dropzone. Seems like this might be possible, then!

jdsb
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Re: Legally Creating a Derivative Work (Hooray, Copyright Law!)

Postby jdsb » Mon Dec 07, 2009 8:35 pm UTC

Yes, as much as everyone hates Microsoft, they are really pushing the user-created content forward. You might already know this, but they have the XNA Creator's Club (or some such name), and basically you can create games, and then sell them on Xbox Live.


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