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>Tip: Video Game Copyright Registration

>Most folks in the industry know about filing copyrights to protect their source code. One area of concern that I see, though, is a lack of awareness of the some of the Copyright Office requirements buried in the Copyright Office regulations.

When filing a copyright registration for a book, it is generally pretty easy to decide when to register (when the book is finished) and what to register (the book). However, software (and games, in particular) is a much more fluid situation. When is a game truly ever finished? And, if we don’t know when the game is finished, what exactly do you decide to register with the Copyright Office?

More importantly…

…the Copyright Office requires that “each separately published version of a computer program that contains new, copyrightable authorship must be registered separately, with a new appliation and fee.” (Circular 61)

So, now the question becomes, how are defining a separately published version of your game? If you release a “beta” version to test multi-player, then send version 1.0 out to the retailers, then offer a downloadable patch that upgrades it to version 1.1, and then a small patch to version 1.1.1, how are you handling the protection for your code. Then, you issue a free expansion pack that adds a few levels, and, then six months later, you send out a paid expansion pack. (Don’t forget the different versions for each language). On top of the different versions, you may have different employees and contractors working on the different versions, so there may not be a common set of authors.

The moral of the story is, don’t assume that by submitting a copyright application that you are fully protecting your code.

Andy Ehmke focuses his practice on intellectual property portfolio issues facing companies in the software, computer, video game and mobile device industries. Prior to joining Haynes and Boone, Andy was an information systems manager and consultant, and also worked as a programmer designing object-oriented programs for hand-held computing devices.

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June 2009
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