By admin | June 15, 2012
I was distressed to read a comment on a mashable post about a new game developed for charity to highlight the experience of being poor in the poorest of countries- Live58 . The post was from another non profit charitable group called PlaySpent.org who had used a similar gameplay for their own game. Now the point of both of these rather simple flash games is to highlight the difficulties of living below the poverty line. A very noble and worthy effort by both of these groups. Even simple game formats like these take a lot of work by all involved.
However, the very first comment on the article was laced with some imagined bitterness that the Live58 group had somehow stolen the idea from the PlaySpent.org game. I am appalled that very petty copyright issues over an extremely simple game idea is used so publicly to put down the efforts of one group over an other. It does both groups no good and spoils the effectiveness of the campaign to capture peoples attention in a positive way.
This petty play over copyright is affecting the entire world of creative digital development. When is a game idea ‘owned’ and copyrightable? It’s a bad term, anything we do even as individuals is copyrightable, it’s the extent of the laws that determine whether a breach has infringed a particular law. It is NOT theft to copy something as the original material is still intact, but it is a breach of copyright laws that are designed to protect a person’s words, ideas or plans from being used falsely or maliciously for the gain of someone other than the original creator. When a student copies parts of their essay without correct notation and claims it’s their own work it is termed Plagiarism.
But there are many things that must remain free for fair use. Who invented boards games? is that copyrightable? of course not, but the characters, artwork, media and gameplay that go into the making of a game are most definitely owned by their creators. If I develop a new card game, can I claim that no one else could ever use my idea? Well given that I didn’t develop or invent the original pack of playing cards we all use, then any game I make using those cards could hardly be seen as being mine alone and shouldn’t prevent anyone else from making a new turn on the game. You would agree, yes?
Well, just to muddy the waters, lets take the case of music: All western music uses an 8 note scale and a series of beats or timing. 3/4 4/4 etc… So in effect every song that ever exists and is played (or downloaded), comes from the same use of those notes and beats. So who owns a song? The original monks who came up with the modern scales and musical notations? Immediately there are problems, no one owns musical frequencies or colour frequencies for that matter either (try owning a colour!). The indian system of music is totally different to the western one.
So we must look at fair use as part of any copyright claim. If we didn’t, no new song or new game could ever be developed. When we make a claim that someone has ripped off our idea, we must first be utterly sure that our idea was the original one and the original source. If I wrote a song called ‘yesterday’ or ‘hey Jude’ or ‘imagine’ etc… would I be infringing the beatles copyright? Well, only if the tune (musical notation) was the same. If I wanted to start a computer company called Apple, I might have some issues! But If I wanted to start a bakers shop called Apple, I would have a right to claim fair use of the name, as the actual word ‘Apple’comes from the English language and is not owned by anyone.
These arguments can get tedious very quickly and lawyers make a lot of money pursuing them. We need to make sure our laws reflect what is essentially common sense and fair use. We need also to STOP claiming theft (a serious criminal offense) when really we are talking about the abuse of fair use.
I wish both these charities well in their efforts to use great experiential game play to educate us about their cause and to experience something of how other people less fortunate than ourselves are forced to live. Both these groups should talk to each other. There is no need to accuse copyright infringement. We need to remember that Content is King, not the wrapping paper.