Using Lawrence Lessig’s book Free Culture as quasi- guide, the blog Press Start to Drink takes a look at the current state of copyright law and enforcement within the game community.
Cease and Desist: Games Culture and Copyright Laws begins with Lessig’s assertion that current copyright laws are nothing more than “protectionism to protect certain forms of business.” This, the author writes, is what has led to, in some cases, “an immense tension between IP holders in the games industry and the IP fans who consider some games part of their personal culture.”
The author details a pair of incidents where game development companies stopped fans from infringing on their copyright: a Gears of War fan that modified a toy to resemble a character from the game and the quashing—by Square Enix—of a community-made Chrono Trigger add-on.
On the other side of the fence, one company (at least) appears to be demonstrating Lessig’s “free culture” ideal: Valve Software. Valve exercised restraint when a group of community members undertook Black Mesa: Source, a project that uses Half Life 2’s source code to reconstruct the original Half Life game.
While Valve did not “openly encouraged the mods development, they have not taken any legal action to stop it.”
Also touched on in the article is the more radical example of when a developer lifts content from a fan-developed project. The author cites the book Play Between Worlds, by T.L. Taylor, who wrote, “several astute MUD developers noticed early on that EQ (EverQuest) appeared strikingly similar to a type of MUD called DIKU.”
The blogger notes that, “…ironically, in the Everquest case, the DIKU developers thought of the situation as a compliment, not a copyright infringement.”
Closing with a quote from Lessig, “The opportunity to create and transform becomes weakened in a world in which creation requires permission and creativity must check with a lawyer,” the blogger adds:
…the more developers and publishers that take up Valve’s position, the more creativity and innovation will emerge out of video game fan communities, already known for their intense fandom and desire to add to, alter, and reimagine their favorite gaming universes.