Sunday, July 6, 2014

Legal Issues Which Concern Video Game Industry (First Half of 2014)

Further to legal practice with an international law firm which has several video game industry clients on its profile with whom I already had a pleasure to work with, I would like to make a short summary of those legal issues which concerned video game industry most in the first half of 2014. This experience is supplemented by questions which I received (and answered) in friendly manner, generally further to speeches at conferences such as Winter Nights 2014 and others.

By this date I have identified EIGHT key legal ares to consider while launching a video game project. Click 'READ MORE' below to find them out (unless this post already shows itself for you in an explicit manner).

1. General Intellectual Property Issues. This usually includes questions of how intellectual property rights are dealt with starting from the pitch to the release. There are at least the following checkpoints: (a) how developers deal with intellectual property between themselves, (b) what conditions contain licenses of third party tools used, (c) how to resolve issues of the rights of outsourced parties, (d) how to set intellectual property rights issues with publishers. The question of all times -- how and to what extent it is possible to protect rights to computer game as a whole -- also pertains to this area. 

2. Trademarks. This area is quite specific (and in most jurisdictions there are special 'patent [and/or trademark] attorneys' in addition to ordinary attorneys). The most typical question is whether the name of a game infringes or does not infringe a trademark which has already been registered. It is crucial to pay attention to countries where other relevant trademarks are registered (unlike copyright trademarks, as a general rule, are not protected universally) and to classes of goods and/or services whereto registered trademarks pertain. Also, the idea to register part of a game (e.g. a maze) as a trademark makes me excited.

3. Data Transfer and DistributionTechnologies. This question became topical after a lot of peer-to-peer legal controversies in many jurisdictions. Peer-to-peer data transfer itself does not imply anything related to computer piracy. The only problem due to which this really advanced age data distribution technology got under the scope of legislation and court practice (mostly criminal) is that it is just too way ahead from legal regulation and governments can hardly do anything with it. However, the use of peer-to-peer technology e.g. for distribution of game clients and updates is okay, unless there is something else, like personal data.   

4. Content Regulation. It usually is a surprise for many people who do not specifically study comparative Internet and video game regulation that Russia is a way behind continental Europe and English-speaking countries in terms of video game content control, and just starts catching up (no game has ever been banned by this time, by the way). Doom, Wolfenstein 3D and Heretic were considered as offensive to minors and were considered as additional facts in criminal proceedings in Germany as far as in 1999. More or less extensive list of known video game bans is located here in Wikipedia.  

5. Separation of Gambling and Non-Gambling. This issue is quite important for any game that includes some kind of random and cashing in (the realities of XXI century games) at the same time. There are jurisdictions where it is possible for your game to get under gambling regulations when a player can receive some virtual good at random if he/she purchased it or the currency to get it with real money. Usually the risks here depend on local definition of gambling which generally includes references to game of chance/luck and getting some prize. Some of these issues I covered here

6. Virtual Currency. The terminology is not really fixed in this area, and many people actually use the term 'virtual currency' to depict Bitcoin and some other currencies which are in fact not more virtual than 'real' printed money which receives value due to consent of economic actors only. I would use the term 'virtual currency' in respect of any currency pertaining to virtual world which would include gold (and its equivalents) and 'high-tier' currency bought for real money. General principle is that a game provider has no problems if no third-party products can be bought with virtual currency. But what if some can be?

7. Personal Data. Looks like personal data regulations became the scourge of Internet business, at least in Europe and in Russia, for the last few years. It is still not clear how these regulations would apply to video game business in practice -- this business is still omitted from scope of governmental regulation in many jurisdictions, but in fact most of the rules which govern Internet are topical to game business as well. Game companies operate with large chunks of personal data which they usually get at the point of making new account. And there are general rules which govern operations with such personal data. 

8. Cryptography Import and Export. Internet and games which use part of its infrastructure are known for their defiance of state borders. Some of the customs services already have issued official documents which stress that customs does not control anything flying over the Internet. Still, there is an exclusion for hardware and software used to encrypt information. From what I seen over the world, the general rule is that local secret service (whatever country we speak about except for some examples) should know the encryption algorithm. And in some situations this may require additional paper filing.

Note that his list is by no means exhaustive and is limited to those questions which I received personally. Still, I believe that this list may serve at least for three purposes. First of all, it may be a good starting point for discussions with fellows. Then, it may give a general understanding of what 'video game law' currently implies in practice. Finally, this list may actually serve as a check-list for a video game business to look into in advance. 

What else should be present on this list in your opinion? 

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