Stupid question, but: Fan games?


#1

I haven’t seen any threads on this, so I’m just going to ask; are fan games accepted around here? I ask primarily because of the recent announcement regarding EU servers, and I want to know if I should alter a game idea I have to accommodate the site’s standards.


#2

!!!IMPORTANT NOTE: I AM NOT A LAWYER!!!

This is a hard question to answer as it depends on the fan game, and requires a bit of background first.

In general under US copyright law (which is what Weight Gaming follows) the original creator of an intellectual property (writing, art, code, ect) automatically reserves all rights unless the original author waves those rights (this is usually done by including a license with the work like the MIT open source license in code or signing over the rights to another entity as is the case for work for hire). Also, copyright (unlike trademarks) can be enforced selectively by the copyright holder and lasts practically forever (UN standard is 50 year minimum but the US on average is much higher) so it also depends on who holds the copyright. For example Nintendo will strike down anyone that even glances at their IP while other companies are happy to allow and even support fan made content.

As explained in our FAQ we do not allow users to post copyrighted content on Weight Gaming without express written permission from the original author. While US law does not require us to actively enforce this we are required to comply with any requests to remove copyrighted material from the site from the copyright holder.

One thing to note is a lot of people fall into the Fair Use trap. While Fair Use will allow you to used the copyright without permission; it is not an exception to the rule but instead a legal defense. This simply means to use the Fair Use claim you need to be in court and we still have to comply with the take down request till the case is resolved. Also, just because you are not making money does not mean you can violate copyright.

While this all may seem like doom and gloom there is one important thing to note, you can not copyright ideas and concepts. This means you are free to make a game about a hedgehog that runs really fast, but just not Sonic the Hedgehog. This is really simplified though as there is some Trade Mark stuff that can come into play but that usually has to be enforced directly so is not much of our concern.

In general if you are looking at making a fan game this is what I would look at:

  1. How derivative is the work (a spiritual successor[safest] vs direct clone[dangerous])
  2. When it comes to characters how similar do they look and act compared to the copyrighted characters (remember names are not copyrightable though)
  3. Does the copyright holder seem to support fan made content or strictly enforces their copyright
  4. Is the game being remade from scratch (best) or using ripped assets and code (worst)
  5. Are you planning on making money (if you plan on making money it can weaken the Fair Use defense in court and increases the likelihood the copyright holder will DMCA you)

Here is a link that explains character copyright fairly well if you want more details:

Also, if you want some ideas on how you could do this without getting into trouble I would look at games in the Linux community like Open Sonic or Open TTD as these both are based on copyright games but have found ways around the system:

http://opensnc.sourceforge.net/home/index.php
https://www.openttd.org/en/

In summery if you do want to make a fan made game we have no rules stopping you as long as you do not used ripped assets or code (must all be your own work) and you make enough changes that you do not copy the copyright holders expression of a concept. Keep in mind though that we could still receive a request to remove the game for infringing copyright, and (unless it is obviously frivolous) we are legally forced to comply.


#3

…so, the answer would be “not recommended”, then?

Thank you very much for such a comprehensive explanation! I honestly wouldn’t mind if it was placed in some terms of service post somewhere.

I’ll just get to work making some… “tweaks”, we can say.


#4

I wouldn’t say not recommended but it is a minefield you have to be careful of since copyright law is very tricky. If you want another good example of a Fan game that seems to have Copyright figured out (or fly under the radar enough to not anger EA) would be Renegade X.

https://renegade-x.com/

This is covered by how we handle copyright in the FAQ/Rules and its such a grey area that there is no good way for it to be added into a ToS. The being said I may make some posts with links to some helpful GDC talks that give a good crash course into copyright law (at least in the US).

That is probably the safest option. After all nothing says you cant make a Mega Man like game (I assume that is what you where talking about).