Copyright Law Myths: No, You Can’t (Re)Make a Star Wars Game

I’m not sure what it is exactly about Star Wars games specifically that makes some people throw caution to the wind and completely disregard existing intellectual property laws, but here we are, the second time in recent memory that the development of an unlicensed Star Wars video game has made the rounds on various gaming news sites.

In case you hadn’t heard, a group of indie game developers going by the name of Poem Studios has announced their intention to release “Apeiron,” a modern reboot of the 2003 Xbox classic Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. According to their website, they are “a group of dedicated programmers, artists, voice actors, world builders, and writers that have all come together to breathe life back into a wonderful game,” and they intend Apeiron to be “a remake and remastering of the original game with added content, new worlds, missions, HUD, inventory, items, and compainions [sic].”

And all that really does sound fantastic – fans of the original game would get to experience the game anew on modern machines, and people who missed it the first time around would get to be introduced to a classic game without having to look past the “classic” graphics and game design.

Or, rather, it would be fantastic, if what they were doing was in any way legal, and if I wasn’t fairly certain a cease and desist letter (or worse) is headed their way at some point in the future.

It seems that Poem Studios has not sought permission from LucasFilm/Disney (who hold the copyright to the Star Wars setting and elements) nor Electronic Arts/BioWare (who hold the copyright to the Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic game). On their website, under the question “Is this legal?” the answer they currently have up there is “WE BELIEVE SO.”

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I… wasn’t exaggerating. This is actually what it says on their website.

It’s safe to say they probably haven’t sought the advice of an IP lawyer. I suspect the Apeiron developers’ confidence in the legality of their project is based on a number of common myths about intellectual property law. I’d like to address a few of the more common myths here. Continue reading

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Let’s Play with Trademarks, Sony!

If you hadn’t already heard, Sony filed a trademark application for the phrase “Let’s Play,” and the Internet was not happy about it. I had the opportunity to give my $0.02 on the subject to Gamasutra recently, and now that the whole thing is more or less dead in the water, I thought I’d go ahead and put the rest of my thoughts down and help clear things up for anyone who might still be wondering about the whole trademark situation.

What a Trademark Is, and What it Isn’t

Whenever some vague trademark filing makes headlines, invariably there will be a number of angry people who incredulously wave their pitchforks at the notion that an evil corporation would have the audacity to try to claim ownership over a common English word or phrase. In these situations, I usually advise restraint, as much of the hostility against such filings is often due to a misunderstanding of what trademark law is meant to accomplish.

Contrary to what some people may think (including some trademark holders), getting a trademark on a word, phrase, or logo doesn’t mean you “own” that word, phrase, or logo; rather, it just means that you have the exclusive right to use that mark “in commerce” in connection with the specific type of goods or services you specified when you applied for the trademark.

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How trademarks are seen by many people.

Unlike a copyright (which gives an author exclusive rights over their creative work) or a patent (which gives an inventor exclusive rights over their invention), a trademark is meant to protect the general public from confusion as to the source of a good or service by giving the trademark holder the exclusive right to use the mark “in commerce” in connection with a particular type of good/service. Continue reading