Over at sister site Gamasutra, we ran a slightly controversial Soapbox from John Andersen last week, named: 'Ripping Off Japan - Japanese Video Game Copyright Protection & Preservation (Or Lack Thereof)'. So we figured GSW was a good place to initially follow up some of the blog feedback.
Firstly, The Inbetween's Mike Nowak had a particularly interesting view on the article, since he was working alongside those who made some CBC Flash web games singled out by Andersen as being 'infringing' in some way (for example: "Sushi Samurai, a clever clone of Burgertime.") Nowak comments, among other things: "Now, I’m not here to argue that those CBC offerings are particularly original. They’re not. But they’re perfectly legal... Spending two thirds of an article attacking some small Flash games, while only giving a half a page mention to the more profitable, lucrative and recent clones by PopCap, hints at the author’s personal bias in the matter."
The 'personal bias' mentioned here is also referenced in some GayGamer.net comments on the same post, in which Raindog comments: "The real shame here isn’t that Flash designers are “ripping off” classic games, but that the classics haven’t become part of the cultural commons yet. Businesses like Andersen’s are really not much better than jackals coming late to the corpse."
Well, I commissioned the article, which we did present as 'Soapbox' rather than cold, hard fact, obviously. Now, I don't read John Andersen as someone who's interested in helping litigate and making scads of money. On the contrary, he comes across (at least to me!) as someone who genuinely cares about IP being respected - he's ended up advising people like G-Mode because he cares about people using their games without asking - and there are some much more egregious examples in the retro arcade game arena that he didn't directly address, I believe.
But one of the things that this controversy is already bringing up is - what really _is_ the law when it comes to IP and game ideas, exactly? For example, why does it feel like (in my mind, at least!) that Breakout is a 'genre' that can be cloned or elaborated on without so much guilt, but Puzzloop isn't? How do we encourage innovation without the innovators being immediately cloned, or is that cloning/deriving just a fact of life that actually helps the medium evolve? [This has come up before on Gamasutra, to much heated discussion.]
Anyhow, I've asked S. Gregory Boyd, who is a _nice_ game IP lawyer, to write a little piece for Gamasutra for later this week on a lawyer's view of how game concepts may or may not be protected - and I think he'll do a fairminded job. In the mean time, I asked Andersen to reply to Nowak's post, which he does after the cut - read on!
[Click through for more.]