My name is Murad Musakaev, I’ve been combining Copyright lawyer and Producer roles in Full HP Ltd since 2017.
As I initially got into the game industry as a lawyer, one of my top priorities was copyright protection. During my time at Full HP Ltd, I’ve found out that law, if applied correctly, can solve lots of problems: remove hacks of your game, open new accounts in the international banks, deal with cheaters, and piracy via platform holders… Well, at least copyright can speed up these processes.
If you start to develop a new intellectual property, especially if it is a software, you have to think about its protection.
Table of Content
- 1. Question #1: What is the point in registration?
- 2. Question #2: “What can you register with copyright certificate registration”?
- 3. Question #3: “How to register a copyright?”
- 4.Question #4: “How can I use the copyright to protect myself?”
- 5. Question #5: “Are there any negative aspects of copyright?”
Question #1: What is the point in registration?
To prove that you, the Author, created some specific intellectual property at some specific time and date. There are some cheap/free ways to do this like, for instance, uploading your files to Google Drive so you will have a file with uploading date. Seems legit, right? In the past authors used to mail their manuscripts to themselves and kept the envelope sealed until it is needed in court. That’s called a “poor man’s copyright” and there is no provision in the copyright law regarding any such type of protection, and it is not a substitute for registration.
Since we are talking about the present days, it’s common that a copyright holder is not a person but a company, a corporation. It’s often needed to transfer copyright from one company to another, so “modern problems require modern solutions”. It’s much easier to control all the deal with copyright if you have it registered. Plus, it enables you to file a lawsuit to enforce copyright in federal court.
Whenever we develop a new game, I register a copyright for it in several countries to ensure that the project is safe. There are three basic ways to protect your intellectual property – the copyright sign (completely free), the copyright registration (for the fair price you get the certificate and it helps a lot), and the trademark registration (has some limits and costs more). The one interesting thing about copyright registration is that if you register your intellectual property in one country it will be legal in all countries who ratified the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works while the power of trademark is limited.
I recommend using all of the options above to protect the project. In some cases, the certificate of copyright registration will have a small impact like a 1% increase of daily active users and income but it is still a good result without great efforts. You will see the difference anyway. As for Full HP, we have increased the revenue of our flagship project Blocky Cars Online by 17% compared quarter over quarter. And here is why: the users have no more options to play on the hacked versions of the game since we’ve blocked it so they started to pay in the official version of Blocky Cars.
As I’ve said before, in my humble opinion copyright registration certificate is the golden standard of protecting the IP, so let’s focus more on this.
Question #2: “What can you register with copyright certificate registration”?
If something is expressed in a materialistic way than you can register the copyright for that particular expression. It can be a whole application as a product, its parts like 3D models or algorithms, screenshots, or CGI trailer of your game… Copyright has some limits because several categories can’t be copyrighted. Some of such categories depend on countries of applicable law but are common for the whole world.
For example, you can’t register a copyright for an idea. Yes, you can express it somehow in the materialistic form as I’ve mentioned before, until it is fixed in material form, e.g. write it down, but if you’ll try to register a copyright, in that case, you will receive a certificate for the literature work. To do this right, you have to fill a patent instead of registering a copyright.
You can’t copyright names and titles – that’ what trademarkTM is forPublic works like legends and myths or information like scientific facts or news can’t be copyrighted also.
The copyright protects the original expression of authorship, a work, while a patent protects inventions or discoveries. Copyright law does not protect ideas and discoveries but can protect the way in which they are expressed like instruction or concept document. A trademark protects words, phrases, symbols that identify one company or service and helps to distinguish it from the others.
Question #3: “How to register a copyright?”
There are two ways that can be done simultaneously and don’t affect each other.
1. Register your copyright in one or several countries.
I personally do the registration in the USA, Canada, and Russia. While all these countries are under the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works, the procedures differ.
In Canada, the registration process is the fastest and the application is registered as a work of literature.
In the US it’s better to check for any other similar copyright before you try to register your game.
In Russia, there is a dedicated category for computer programs copyright, they even check code strings of your program.
You don’t need to register in more than one country but my experience tells that it’s easier to interact with Russian banks when you have Russian copyright and Google takes less time to examine your copyright if you have it registered in the USA. You have to think about your goals and choose the countries where registration will be the most efficient. Of course, for different countries, it will take different amounts of time and money. And some of the countries may not have any internal mechanism of copyright protection even if they have ratified the Berne Convention. That’s when Way #2 comes handy.
2. WIPO PROOF.
On May 27th, 2020 World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) introduced its new service that provides tamper-proof evidence of the existence at a point in time of any digital file, including data sets, in any format. You upload your file and, without reading the file’s contents, WIPO uses Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) technology to generate WIPO PROOF tokens. The WIPO PROOF certificate shows who and when had possession of the specific digital file, including file format info.
It’s a fast and pretty cheap (20 Swiss Francs for registration and 20 Swiss Francs for a certificate, 1 Swiss Franc = 1,06 USD) way to get a proof of your ownership. And since the WIPO is one of the 15 specialized agencies of the United Nations (UN), this WIPO PROOF certificate should be valid worldwide.
Question #4: “How can I use the copyright to protect myself?”
Let’s look at the situations that can be resolved with the help of the copyright certificate. The following examples are “based on true events” and I’ve used every single one so feel free to reach out with questions.
The first way to use it is the most obvious – you can prove your ownership in the negotiations with financial organizations and e-commerce platforms.
The world is changing day by day and the only way to survive is to adapt quickly. At some point, your business may require a new office in another country with the new bank account. I faced this situation when I received a task to open a Full HP office in Cyprus and open a new bank account. To get a VAT number and to open an international account in Bank of Cyprus I had to confirm that my company truly owns the rights for our game Blocky Cars and Mad GunZ. There was an option to share a link to Google Play, send the Terms of Service, provide a copy of our account overview but I’ve chosen a much more elegant way – Copyright Certificate. When you encounter situations like the above one – you have an additional way to control it.
The second way to use a certificate is more interesting – you can block an unofficial version of your product with it. When you find a complete clone of your game on the app store you can send the complaint to the platform support with the copyright certificate attached. If you describe precisely what parts of the game were copied, the clone will be taken down. But be honest because Google Play and Apple App Store don’t tolerate false alarms
The third way – to remove the hacked versions of your application from the websites. You can always try to contact the administration and ask them to remove the link to the hacked version of the game due to copyright infringement. Sometimes the administration refuses to cooperate or doesn’t even respond to your messages. In that case, you should address your complaints to the hosting provider, with a copyright certificate attached.
The fourth way - to remove the video instructions of the hacking process from any video hosting platform, e.g. YouTube. Popular games and applications get hacking video tutorials every month. Luckily, all modern video hosting platforms and social networks have Support Services. For instance, YouTube has a special form of copyright infringement. Send a link and your certificate to the Support Service and the infringing content will be removed before you can say “Copyright”.
Finally, you can use the copyright certificate to fill the form in Google Search or other search engines to remove some links from the search results. This won’t remove the website from the internet but will make it significantly harder to access objectionable content. And you don’t have to dig through the whole web to find ALL the controversial links. They say the best place to hide a body is the second page of Google Search. The users are lazy and if they find nothing on the first three pages they probably won’t go further and will simply buy what you want them to buy.
These 5 ways of using copyright are just the tip of the iceberg but it can make your life much easier. By utilizing strategies from points 3, 4, and 5 I decreased the number of illegal usage of our games dramatically.
Question #5: “Are there any negative aspects of copyright?”
Yes, like any other government-based mechanism copyright has a light side and dark side. There are at least two significant problems with exploiting the copyright which I despise - patent trolling and restriction of the creative processes.
1. Patent trolling.
Non-practicing entities or patent trolls are a big problem in modern digital law. When a company gets a patent or a trademark not because it wants to produce or sell something but because it plans to charge licensing fees to others that they claim are infringing on the patents they hold – that’s trolling. And it can be really hard to prove that you were the first one to operate under your title. We had such an experience when one European company registered trademark BlockyTM and tried to remove Blocky Cars from Google Play. They had no luck since we registered our copyright two years before the situation. But who knows what could have happened in the other case? That’s why you need to think about protecting your rights as soon as you have something to protect.
2. Closing the free fan projects.
I love Resident Evil 4, it’s my favorite part. That’s why I fret that Capcom will close another fan remake that is in the development at the moment. Yes, Capcom does it's own remakes and they are incredible. They even let the developers of Resident Evil Reborn, an unofficial remake of RE2, join the development process of the official RE2 Remake. But still, we have an example of EA (Star Wars Apeiron), Warner Brothers (Mortal Kombat Returns), Blizzard (DOTA and WoW Classic), and many other studios that restricted their fans to produce any unofficial content that gives a second breath to the old games. Everything that left is the hope that the Black Mesa project and Valve’s approach to the situation will show other corporations that fan-made remakes can't do any harm to the franchise.
This article had two goals: to tell you that copyright can be a great addition to your development process and to show how deep the topic is. It’s just the tip of the iceberg so if you want to know more or if you need any assistance in registering your copyright – feel free to contact me on LinkedIn - https://www.linkedin.com/in/musakaevmk/