Copyrights and Copycats

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Copyrights and Copycats

Is imitation the sincerest form of flattery?

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I would have to say the worst one I heard of was knock-off baby food. That is just low.

OT: I think you got the right of it Shamus. Such a law would do more harm then good.

Great article. Sad thing is the conclusion I can get from this is that the legal system simply cannot be trusted to handle cases like this or prevent abuse from corporate bullying.

The laws are design to be purposely vague so cases can be decided on a case by case basis. It is almost impossible to find the line between an infringement derivative work and an original piece influenced by game play mechanics. I know the courts are pretty good at understanding all the factors and deciding these cases, good lawyers or not.

Shamus Young:
We've got laws to keep the bad guys from using the brand names of the good guys, and anything more might just be asking for a worse kind of trouble.

Shamus, you hit the nail on the head with this. Brand names are covered by trademark law, and that's easily the most useful branch of IP law as far as I can see. In fact, I'd go so far as to claim it's the only one that actually makes logical sense, but that's a whole other debate.

Suing for being "too similar" to another game/song/movie/any form of art is a very slippery slope. George Harrison had to pay $1.6 million because a song he wrote sounded similar to a different song by another artist that he claimed he had never heard before. They were able to show that he had previously been exposed to it in some context, and so the judge actually ruled that he had "subconsciously" plagiarized the song. That's the kind of shit we have to look forward to if people can sue over ideas.

Dorkmaster Flek:

Shamus Young:
We've got laws to keep the bad guys from using the brand names of the good guys, and anything more might just be asking for a worse kind of trouble.

Shamus, you hit the nail on the head with this. Brand names are covered by trademark law, and that's easily the most useful branch of IP law as far as I can see. In fact, I'd go so far as to claim it's the only one that actually makes logical sense, but that's a whole other debate.

Suing for being "too similar" to another game/song/movie/any form of art is a very slippery slope. George Harrison had to pay $1.6 million because a song he wrote sounded similar to a different song by another artist that he claimed he had never heard before. They were able to show that he had previously been exposed to it in some context, and so the judge actually ruled that he had "subconsciously" plagiarized the song. That's the kind of shit we have to look forward to if people can sue over ideas.

What? He infringed He's So Fine by The Chiffons, one of the recognizable and top songs of the 1960s. And it only cost him $580,000 because he bought the company that owned the copyright instead of playing the $1.6 million.

You can not copyright ideas, it has to be a fixed media.

If you're going to talk about music lawsuits, don't stop at George Harrison getting sued over My Sweet Lord. John Fogerty once got sued for sounding too much like himself.

I think a Neil Gaiman quote fits well in here: "Law is not a scalpel, it is a sledgehammer."

I'll add that every economic report seems to show Zynga is suffering. Just ignore them for a little longer and they'll die off.

Hitchmeister:
If you're going to talk about music lawsuits, don't stop at George Harrison getting sued over My Sweet Lord. John Fogerty once got sued for sounding too much like himself.

A major difference is that Fogerty successfully defended himself, and was acquitted.

woo a link to Litigation Hammer one of the few articles i actually bookmarked on this site!

Transmorpher...o that made me laugh. As always a good read.

This is one of the reason I'm happy the Netherlands doesn't use a jury system. Granted, most judges won't have played the game either, but have at least studied the law enough and are educated enough to hopefully understand the similarities when explained to them and know which ones are illegal.

I applaud the message and the way it was said. But how can we make things better (fairer?). While you are right there will be clones and knock-offs, how can we discourage companies like Zynga get away with creative kidnapping? Because if they are not held responsible now - they will cotinue to do so.
On a side note, Zynga has signed a contract with Chinese company Tencent (who manage the vastly popular chat program QQ in China) - the motto of the CEO of Tencent is "[To] copy is not evil".

When put into context;

Stephen Bell, a Shanghai-based partner at Trinity Ventures, a venture capital firm, says he hears this all the time: "In the U.S., students think, 'If I build something good, Google will buy me.' In China they think, 'If I build something good, Tencent will copy me.' "

Zynga just signed with these guys, seems like a perfect marriage. Keep in mind that Tencent wants to expand into the USA.

Great article, you make a good point as always.

Juris suck anyway. no one ever bothers to do homework while theyre juri, or cares for that matter, or knows anything relevant to the case.

Copyright laws are fine as they are right now. Case by case basis when it comes to this type of complexity is the best way to go, specially since there arent THAT many game copyright law cases. That being said, there is such a game as DigCraft...several actually. i actualy think that knockoff that got launched to the XBOX LIVE didnt get sued cause it was too BASIC to be similar to minecraft xD. that and notch said he didnt care.

draythefingerless:
Juris suck anyway. no one ever bothers to do homework while theyre juri, or cares for that matter, or knows anything relevant to the case.

As someone that recently served on a jury, I take offence.

The most important point against you here: Juries are not allowed, by penalty of law, to research the cases they are hearing. It is the job of the judge and the lawyers to present the issue, not of the juries to discover it for themselves. A juror that independently researches a case can be found in contempt of court, fined and possibly jailed.

krellen:

draythefingerless:
Juris suck anyway. no one ever bothers to do homework while theyre juri, or cares for that matter, or knows anything relevant to the case.

As someone that recently served on a jury, I take offence.

The most important point against you here: Juries are not allowed, by punishment of law, to research the cases they are hearing. It is the job of the judge and the lawyers to present the issue, not of the juries to discover it for themselves. A juror that independently researches a case can be found in contempt of court, fined and possibly jailed.

Yeah, it's not really anything that's held against a jury, even more so with this in mind. Any big name would destroy little guys with such an easy law to manipulate.

Good article!

"Spyfox is taking 6wave to court"

Much as seeing the word spyfox makes my nostalgia senses all tingly, for the sake of the article I shall mention the typo.

Other than that, good read. Kinda weird when I think about it. I'm so used to knock off being used for the ridiculous toys and whatnot that I don't even consider the knockoff cereals and stuff that I see on a regular basis.

Shamus Young:

Is imitation the sincerest form of flattery?

Yup.

To expand: imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, not [copy-pasting. It truly shows your support for something cool when you start using the concepts it presents for yourself. But you need to take said cool thing and make it your own, as the article-made-up Steamtown did.

The lawsuit examples that Shamus warn about is possible, as far as I know Zynga themselves have been pretty aggresive in this regard. I think it's quite possible that the developers of Tiny Towers called Zynga out on their plagiarism simply to try to prevent a lawsuit from Zynga. That would have been ironic, to be sued by a copycat company.

And in relation to Shamus' closing statement. Copying other people's work is great practice for artists, programmers, musicians and other creative beings. It's definitely reccommended. But keep it in the desk drawer of course. :-)
We already have too many laws making it illegal to learn from other people's work. It should be perfectly fine to reverse engineer software for educational purposes. Unfortunately it isn't.

Shamus Young:
Copyrights and Copycats

Is imitation the sincerest form of flattery?

Read Full Article

Fantastic, well written and argued piece and point of view. This should really be required knowledge in the digital age :)

Is it just me or did Skyrim totally rip off Y's Seven?

I mean, both take place in lands where dragons are worshipped and feared as gods, and behind each boss there is an ancient stone monument with a scried symbol that confers special powers when gazed upon, but only the fated chosen one can receive these powers... and the dragons are now awakening... um... both have elevators that are stone platforms with crank shafts... and you have followers....

It CAN'T be coincidence.

/sarcasm.

Nicely done, Shamus.

(Haha: Transmorphers [...] People who liked this also liked "The Day the Earth .. Stopped")

Great, now I feel an irresistible urge to play Steamtown...
Sounds a bit like a 3D Clonk remake. I love Clonk!

Ok so anyone know where (or if) I can find and play Steamtown? It sounds like a great game and I'd love to give it a try

I would really love to try Steamtown. It sounds awesome. But alas, a Google search seems to indicate that it is merely a fabricated and hypothetical example.

A good lawyer could convince a similar jury that Digcraft is not a ripoff of Minecraft.

In fact, I think you just did.

I would hope that most games begin with the designer saying, "I like this idea, but I think I can do it better."

Digcraft uses bump-mapping, bloom effects, and particle effects to make a world of vibrant colors.

So Digcraft said "I like this Minecraft idea, but I think I can do it (graphically) better.". You might not care about graphics that much, but others do.

Anyway, it always completely baffles me that so many countries use trial-by-jury filled with people who have no idea what the fuck their talking (or hearing) about, rather than trained professionals.

I agree with the central tenets of the article though.

Originality is an absurd notion. I did not think Shamus was this naive.

Ideas and thought are all influenced and "ripped" of other ideas and thoughts, even once you cannot remember reading or seeing. Indeed, you can be pretty certain that someone else in the world has had your ideas before and the same insight. Indeed, with over 7 billion minds churning away every day, how can idea be thought of as new? Of course, most of these people have no way of setting these ideas in motion or getting them "copyrighted". I think some people need to check their privilege here.

The whole thing becomes a question of who have the most support or the most money to make something into "intellectual property", another absurd notion. Owning ideas is such a horrible concept it really makes my head spin. It would be funny, if it was not so sad.

Skyweir:
Originality is an absurd notion. I did not think Shamus was this naive.

Ideas and thought are all influenced and "ripped" of other ideas and thoughts, even once you cannot remember reading or seeing. Indeed, you can be pretty certain that someone else in the world has had your ideas before and the same insight. Indeed, with over 7 billion minds churning away every day, how can idea be thought of as new? Of course, most of these people have no way of setting these ideas in motion or getting them "copyrighted". I think some people need to check their privilege here.

The whole thing becomes a question of who have the most support or the most money to make something into "intellectual property", another absurd notion. Owning ideas is such a horrible concept it really makes my head spin. It would be funny, if it was not so sad.

I think you just don't understand what originality means. Besides, if you were following him, you might have understood he was talking about clones, not ripped ideas. In reality the originality in question isn't even the issue at hand. It's a case of selling an "Adibas" T-shirt, not a case of this looks similar to that.

May i just say its a genuine pleasure to have you back on a more regular basis Shamus; i really have missed your articles here.

krellen:

draythefingerless:
Juris suck anyway. no one ever bothers to do homework while theyre juri, or cares for that matter, or knows anything relevant to the case.

As someone that recently served on a jury, I take offence.

The most important point against you here: Juries are not allowed, by penalty of law, to research the cases they are hearing. It is the job of the judge and the lawyers to present the issue, not of the juries to discover it for themselves. A juror that independently researches a case can be found in contempt of court, fined and possibly jailed.

take offense all you want, my generalization has basis. you are not the majority, unfortunately, and im sorry you took my words so literally to the point of including every single person whos ever been a juri into it. most people(thats a big MOST) hate juri duty and do lil as possible while theyre on it. and when i said research(badly worded, my bad), i mean listening to what the court is saying and understanding it, and making a well thought decision, instead of a "yeh whatever..guilty i guess".

Skyweir:
Originality is an absurd notion. I did not think Shamus was this naive.

Ideas and thought are all influenced and "ripped" of other ideas and thoughts, even once you cannot remember reading or seeing. Indeed, you can be pretty certain that someone else in the world has had your ideas before and the same insight. Indeed, with over 7 billion minds churning away every day, how can idea be thought of as new? Of course, most of these people have no way of setting these ideas in motion or getting them "copyrighted". I think some people need to check their privilege here.

The whole thing becomes a question of who have the most support or the most money to make something into "intellectual property", another absurd notion. Owning ideas is such a horrible concept it really makes my head spin. It would be funny, if it was not so sad.

It is not an absurd notion. to a more fundamental comparison, your DNA is very similar(99,999% similar) to every other human, but the differences in it, as lil as they are, as well as the small differences in the way you grew up, make you into an original and unique being. youre being a bit absolutist there in your definition of original just to make a poin. also, no one can own an idea. not in the civilized world. and btw, there is a BIG, BIG BIG difference between having a fluke of an idea and seeing that idea realized. 99% of the time, it will NOT be what you were thinking or most people thinking. very rarely can a human being formulate in the original idea a concrete complex and detailed image of what the final work will be. TLDR, your mind thinks abstractly and as such will not think up things as they are in reality

draythefingerless:
take offense all you want, my generalization has basis. you are not the majority, unfortunately, and im sorry you took my words so literally to the point of including every single person whos ever been a juri into it. most people(thats a big MOST) hate juri duty and do lil as possible while theyre on it. and when i said research(badly worded, my bad), i mean listening to what the court is saying and understanding it, and making a well thought decision, instead of a "yeh whatever..guilty i guess".

JurY, with a y. If you want to be taken seriously, you'll need to learn how to spell, especially when someone you're conversing with has already shown you the correct spelling. And a person serving on a jury is a juror.

And you have no idea what you're talking about. People may not necessarily want to do jury duty, but the people I served with took the issue very seriously. There was no "yeah, whatevers" going on. We discussed the facts of the case - when we were allowed to, which is not until after all the facts were presented and we were sequestered for deliberation. We took the directions of the judge seriously. We discounted personal feelings and examined the facts.

There were people that didn't want to be there. They still took it seriously. We were deciding someone's fate. That's not something people take lightly.

Shamus, I have written a reply to your article: http://clevermusings.net/2012/02/tiny-tower-v-dream-heights/

I do not agree with your assessment regarding NimbleBit's lack of legal recourse. It sounds like NimbleBit has the makings of a claim for copyright infringement.

Also, I believe that a jury comprised of non-video game players is plenty competent enough to decipher the difference between video game mechanics. I think you need to give jurors much more credit. There are areas of intellectual property law far more complicated where jurors successfully tackle incredibly complex subject matter.

Well part of the problem is that the law has yet to go about this in the right way. A problem with issues involving the gaming industry in general. Largely because nobody involved in a suit has had the brains to make the right kinds of demands or attacks... on pretty much any issue.

The point made about the jury seems like an insurmountable obstacle until you consider that even in a civil matter you have the right to demand a jury familiar with the subject matter, OR that the case be decided by a judge if such a thing is impossible.

Sort of like how a black guy involved in a civil action against a company based on the accusation that he was a victim of racism by whites, can object to an all white jury. Sometimes jury selection for civil cases can take a very long time if an agreement to have
a judge decide can't be reached and a very specific body of knowlege combined with neutrality towards the players involved in the case becomes nessicary.

I'm not an expert, and it wasn't the aspect of the legal system i studied, but I know the basics. Simply put what we need is for companies going up against something like Zynga to demand, much like a business-related arguement, that the Jury of their "peers" have detailed knowlege about gaming, it just hasn't happened yet. Granted this means Jury selection might take years, especially until the system becomes used to it, but sometimes that's what it takes. Civil courts have gotten better about coming up with jurors to sit in for contract disputes and other technical matters over the years, and really this is very similar to those kinds of business battles that come down to legal wording, understanding, and the cross examination of notaries and legal witnesses for their understandings.

Basically if we had Minecraft against either of the other games, demanding a judge, or an appropriate Jury is probably what Notch should do since his accusations of a knockoff are going to be based on gaming knowlege.

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