Game Design, Programming and running a one-man games business…

Copyright and getting some perspective

Oh noes, a post about copyright! batten down the hatches etc…

The copyright debate is in deadlock, as ever, and the two sides are way too far apart.

There are maniacs out there that think you shouldnt be able to sing copyrighted songs at a birthday party. There are maniacs out there that think if you upload a youtube video of a child singing a pop song, it should be taken down. There are maniacs out there who think they can copyright generic terms and words that have been in use for decades or centuries and prevent others using them. There are people who think that the word ‘orange’ or ‘apple’ now belong to companies. Fuck that. There are people who think they can patent clicking a mouse, and even one batshit mental woman who thinks she owns the sun.

And all of these people should be thrown into a pit of tigers and then attacked with flamethrowers.

But…

Often the anti-copyright or ‘copyright reform’ side of the argument does itself no favours. Like many angry internet movements, they get so entwined with complete headcases who want to repeal copyright as an idea, that their whole argument becomes tainted.

Check out this game:

The guy making it got a DMCA takedown request from the owners of the Pacman IP. OH MY GOD! IT’S FASCISM AT WORK! Or maybe not… maybe he just ripped off pacman 100%, didn’t even have the creative juices to pick new colors for the ghosts, and he thinks *he* is the victim?

Now I know Namco don’t need the money, but the principle remains the same. The same copyright law that protects billionaires also protects indie developers like me, and everyone in between. And don’t forget, if you are IT literate and creative, the chances that your livelihood will directly or indirectly be earned from copyright are extremely high these days.

People rightfully get annoyed at some of the crazy DRM schemes and evil bastards that push copyright beyond its sensible uses, but people need to also get rightfully annoyed at the people who make any calls to reform copyright laughable. When people rip off a game, a movie, a tv show, a book or anything else to the point where you can’t tell the difference, the copyright reformers need to call them out on it. The same goes for certain torrent sites, and the ‘anonymous download’ servcies that are 99% copyrighted content.  Getting bundled in with people trying this stuff just makes the whole copyright-reform lobby look like trolls.


18 thoughts on Copyright and getting some perspective

  1. in all fairness, this guy even got shot down on slashdot for his bitching.

    I think the copyleft did a good job of getting “rightfully annoyed at the people who make any calls to reform copyright laughable”

    are you aware of the problems qcf design have had with a guy pushing a clone of their game out? It’s worth a read.
    http://www.qcfdesign.com/?p=376

  2. That’s a particularly shameful example of clonage, in that it hews exceptionally true to the source.

    One of my favorite clones, dating from the pre-286 era, was one with a First Pacman POV, and the ability to drop down to new levels.

    Of course, my 2nd favorite comes from Namco, and it’s PacMan Vs. for the Gamecube.

    Gameclones are like song covers; nobody likes a cover that hews too closely to the original.

  3. Clothes have costs of production and materials. You can’t copy a designer dress with 2 mouse clicks.
    Nor can you make clothes available anonymously for free.

  4. I cannot copy the GSB source without access to your source code either. If I re-implement everything, that is perfectly fine. If I copy your binaries, that isn’t a “clone” so much as selling your property. I am only defending clones where the author has to write everything again from the ground up. The Pac-Man example given is probably ;) not using the same binary from NAMCO. He wrote that himself.

  5. While that is certainly morally correct, it is also pretty much impossible to make decent rules and laws from it. Who is going to judge the ratio of pixels that one must change to be “new”? With clothes, it’s “if anything differs, that’s it”, which works remarkably well.

    And honestly, if someone goes through the trouble of rewriting GSB from the ground up, and then trying to sell a rip-off to an already saturated market, who am I to stop him? That’s pretty much financial suicide to begin with. As for Pac-Man: That game is 30 years old. I am sure they made enough money to be compensated for their ground breaking work.

  6. who is to judge ‘enough money’?

    if som eone looking at game Z genuinely cannot tell the difference between it and game X, then thats clearly someone copying someone else’s work whilst adding nothing to it.
    I can’t understand why people think that should be encouraged.

    This guy had zero ideas, so he just copeid someone else’s. is that what we want in gaming? No thanks.

  7. But that is a problem that will solve itself. People don’t buy the same game twice, and the copy-cat will make a tiny profit, since he is later, and “just a copy”. We do not need laws to protect us from shitty games. We have capitalism for that.

  8. I am a little torn in all this, in this example it is a pixel perfect copy, and for that it seems horrible, but also it is pixel perfect for how simple the original game is.

    If someone made a Minecraft clone, and tried to sell that, never innovating, always copying features from the original, then that sucks. But if someone saw potential in the idea, cloned the game, but after that, started improving on it, and ended up making something that is better than the original. I don’t see a problem with that, but during some time that person will only have made a simple clone.

    The game Leave the Devil Alone for android and iphone, is, in a lot of ways, a simple clone of Plants vs Zombies, but it has completely custom art, extra mechanics, and it is a lot of fun. For a lot of people, it will remain a simple clone but for others it is a completely different game with every right to be made.

  9. @Kdansky: The problem comes when the guy who copies the game is better at Marketing than the original guy. If more people see the clone first, they will buy that first and also assume it’s the original.

    The problem with copyrighting code is that if you want to program something into a game with, say, C++, then there are probably very limited options in varying the code. It is one of those grey areas in copyright that I think will always cause problems because it’s a matter of opinion with how similar one game is to another.
    Having said that, copyright is easier to enforce for graphics and sound.

  10. I do hope those are fireproof tigers, or I’m calling PETA on you.

    The Pacman game is actually a bad example of copyright violation. Because it’s more trademark violation than copyright violation. Or, wait, is that an iPhone game? Is the guy selling it? I assumed it was a free flash game at first. Because that does make a difference.

    Anyway, I remember back in the mid-90s when folks used to make “clones” of games that were 10% to 90% different from the original (and never exact), always for free, and usually as a simple exercise on the way to making something more original. More recently, Super Mario Bros. X, Super Mario Crossover, Tuper Tario Tros, and even Braid are games that deliberately reference a particular well-known game (though Braid avoids actually violating copyright or trademarks), but then there’s some kind of crazy spin that turns them into genuinely different games. This sort of thing should be applauded.

    Straight rip-offs, though? … Directly copying a game’s gameplay purely as a programming exercise and to show off to your peers: Fine. This has been recommended by many in the industry time and again.

    Releasing it? Iffy, but again it’s fine if it’s an ancient game that isn’t being sold by the original copyright holder. Like Droid Quest. No one is going to buy Robot Odyssey (what Droid Quest is an exact clone of) today, and the original publisher and developer don’t even exist anymore.

    Copying someone else’s game and putting it up for sale? Especially when it’s obviously a major IP that’s still very much in use? Lazy, good for nothing, jackasses. There’s really no excuse for this.

  11. “If someone made a Minecraft clone, and tried to sell that, never innovating, always copying features from the original, then that sucks. But if someone saw potential in the idea, cloned the game, but after that, started improving on it, and ended up making something that is better than the original. I don’t see a problem with that, but during some time that person will only have made a simple clone.”

    Oh yeah! Minecraft is the perfect example, actually. Before it was called Minecraft, it was called “this Infiniminer clone I’m working on”. That’s right: Minecraft started as a clone. THEN Notch went and added a ton of his own ideas, including Survival Mode, which Infiniminer most certainly does not have. Now the only things Minecraft has in common with Infiniminer is that they both have 3D worlds made of cubes and involve digging in some way.

    It did help that the Infiniminer guys abandoned their project before Notch started Minecraft and Notch got their blessing first. But yeah.

  12. “I do hope those are fireproof tigers, or I’m calling PETA on you.”

    Brilliant!!
    Fireproof Tigers ftw!

  13. So I take it from your reaction you wouldn’t be keen on my gratuitous space battles clone. Be prepared though for when your ip runs out I’m making gratuitous democracy oh, and There Will Be Blood, in my game.

  14. The problem here is that the guy is clearly trading on the reputation of Pac Man to try to popularise his work. So he’s stealing the branding as well as the ideas. If they weren’t worth anything now (even 30 years later), he wouldn’t be copying them, so clearly Namco deserves something for creating something so influential and distinctive. Creating clones is a good way to learn programming, but it’s not really on to try to make money from them.

    Some ideas do spread and get adapted into new games, such as control mechanisms and what we come to think of as genres (there are an awful lot of cartoony business sims out there now, and plenty of shoot-em-ups). But there’s a difference between being influenced by someone else and ripping them off.

  15. @ Kdansky
    > “I want to point you to this TED lecture about copyright. The fashion industry does not have any copyright whatsoever, apart from trademarking brand logos. They seem to be doing fine.”
    http://www.ted.com/talks/johanna_blakley_lessons_from_fashion_s_free_culture.html

    Yeah, we’ve all seen that video. There are so many problems with the comparison that it’s hard to know where to start. I didn’t feel like going through and picking out all the errors, so I stuck to just two:
    http://www.atomicboysoftware.com/blog/2010/05/getting-it-wrong-johanna-blakely-ted-video/

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