Copyright forms a key part of any video game developer’s arsenal to protect their work, alongside trade marks (see my previous post on trade marks for games here) and other rights.
Copyright is an unregistered intellectual property right that protects artistic works such as artwork, music, literary works (including source code and text) and databases. You don’t need to do anything to have copyright protection, because it is an automatic right and arises as soon as you have created something substantive. So, as long as the work is original and does not use another person’s copyright, certain parts of a video game will automatically have copyright protection.
Copyright protects various types of creative outputs that are original. With that in mind, let’s take a look at which parts of a video game copyright can cover.
Any text within the game that is original, and is a clear work of in-game lore (Grimoire in Destiny, books in Skyrim, or the Codex in Mass Effect) will attract copyright protection as long as it is an original work. This includes source code, which can also be protected by copyright from copying. Outside of the game, your character scripts will be protected by copyright, as well as any notes and pitch documents.
Game art, including concept art, will attract copyright protection for the exact way that it is expressed.
Any music and soundtracks within your game will be protected by copyright. Video games, such as the Fallout series, or The Sims, that include real-life (ish) music, will have licenses in place with the copyright holders to allow them to use that music in their games. You should ensure that any music in your game is either your own original creation, or you have a licence or assignment for the music.
In-game videos may also attract copyright protection as a film, whether it is the iconic “war never changes” reel from the Fallout game introductions, or in-game cutscenes like in Halo.
If you have voiced characters in your game, those characters’ voice recordings will have copyright protection, both for the script and as a sound recording.
Unfortunately, although copyright protects a lot of different types of work, it doesn’t protect ideas. It only covers the way ideas are expressed. This is why you often see a lot of ‘copycat’ video games, or games that are highly similar in concept. There are so many examples of similar concept games, but the key ones that came to mind are Team Fortress 2 vs Overwatch vs Paladins, Call of Duty vs Battlefield, or PUBG vs Fortnite.
The starting point is that the person who has drawn, drafted, created, developed or produced a copyrightable work owns the copyright but there are scenarios where this is not true.
Where employees create the work in the course of their employment, the employer will own the copyright. For example, my blog post is written by me, but Briffa owns the copyright as my employer.
If you assign your copyright, you will no longer own the copyright protection. Assignments are particularly used with contractors to ensure the company they are working with has control over the copyright works.
It is important to keep track of who owns the copyright in your video game. If more than one person works on the game, and they are not employees or have not assigned their copyright to you, then you may end up with a work of joint ownership, which gives each joint owner the right to exploit and use the copyright without permission from the other joint owners. It also makes it more difficult to enforce your copyright if someone decides to copy aspects of your game.
If you need any information or advice in relation to copyright or need to protect your video game, please contact us for a free 30-minute consultation and we can let you know how we can help!
We’ll start with a no obligation chat where we’ll get to know you and understand your current challenges.
Book your free consultation now