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WolverineOfLove's Journal: Should I license a copyright for a remake of an Abandonware title? 14

Journal by WolverineOfLove

I'm in the process remaking an abandonware game that I used to play when I was young on my family's DOS computer. It was published by a private company in the 1980s that folded a few years later amidst a legal battle. As a business in the United States, the company had registered materials for its products with copyrights. Today, the game's creator no longer has legal rights to the name, however, he continued to work on the franchise for a while, even hiring a programmer to create a GUI sequel that never quite finished.

I had decided before a single line of code had been written, that at launch, I would establish an open source project with an appropriate license. My intent is to duplicate the original game behavior, logic and art as closely as possible for authenticity's sake. Because I am rewriting 100% of the code, I feel my efforts would be best preserved for other retro game programmers to build on, even if the remake itself does not become popular. My existing code already emulates a console graphics system similar to curses on an HTML5 canvas, so even that code alone could be used by another programmer to create an entirely new game.

Because I want such a faithful port, I started researching the game and discovered that the copyrights to the name and other source materials (that I would like to make available to users of my remake) belong to a person wholly unassociated with the original development team and creator.

The original title is available for an emulator, and made free for download on the creator's webpage, as well as third-party abandonware sites. So are the printed source material (which were needed to pass the password screen built into some games back then). This indicates to me that the copyright holder is either ignorant of these violations, or choosing not to enforce the copyrights.

In addition, I have no desire to profit from this project in any way. For me, it is a project of self-education, and I would hope a meaningful contribution to gaming/programming communities.

I contacted an IP lawyer and asked the boilerplate questions about the contractual steps that would normally be used (licensing / transferring copyrights) to publish a remake, but I never brought up the legal background of the copyrights nor the idea that I would be effectively "giving away" the game, not selling it.

This has lead me to ask a pragmatic question:

Should I approach the copyright holder and purchase a license, or attempt to buy the rights outright and transfer them to the open source project/myself/the original creator?

On one hand, if I want to cover my legal bases and avoid having to later remove my project due to threat of a lawsuit, the answer is "yes," in one way or another. That is, assuming the copyright holder says yes. If not, do I willfully disobey, or begin changing things to make a clone of my own design?
Alternatively, there seems to be no evidence that in the past 18 years the copyright holder has ever done anything with the IP.
Finally, as I noted earlier, either he has an agreement with the original game creator to distribute copies of the game, or he honestly doesn't care.

Thanks Slashdot!

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Should I license a copyright for a remake of an Abandonware title?

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  • by odinsgrudge (945399) on Thursday March 11, 2010 @07:00PM (#31446760)
    Attempt to purchase a license to remake the game. If you don't, and the copyright holder finds out, at best you're looking at the receiving end of a DMCA takedown notice. Worst case is he takes you to court for damages. He may never find out, but do you really want to risk it? IMHO, I would approach the copyright holder for at least a license to remake the game.
  • 1. As you have said, the creator of the game do not own the copyright anymore, and the copyright owner has nothing to do with the game creation.

    Let's say you approach the person who has nothing to do with the game and obtain the copyright (full or part), who is to say that the original creator won't come to sue you?

    That would be a frivolous lawsuit, but then, any lawsuit still requires you to waste time, effort and money to defend.

    Have you consider that?

    2. Look at Tetris, and look at how many version of "te

    • by KlaymenDK (713149)

      You're off by a bit there.

      1) If the original author has signed away his rights, all he can do with it is list it on his CV. Suing would not be an option. This guy needs to worry only about the copyright holder.

      2) You're right on this one. Basically, I do know that the Tetris Corporation (or whatever it is called) does care a lot, but I guess they're just totally overwhelmed to do anything meaningful about it.

      • by Taco Cowboy (5327)

        Thanks for your reply. I gonna talk about point #1 since we agree on point #2.

        Regarding point #1, this is what you said:

        1) If the original author has signed away his rights, all he can do with it is list it on his CV. Suing would not be an option. This guy needs to worry only about the copyright holder.

        You were replying to what I said previously:

        Let's say you approach the person who has nothing to do with the game and obtain the copyright (full or part), who is to say that the original creator won't come to sue you?

        That would be a frivolous lawsuit, but then, any lawsuit still requires you to waste time, effort and money to defend.

        So back to the point - I am not denying what you said, that when the original game creator signed away his rights, he has nothing left other than a listing on his CV.

        But frivolous lawsuit is just that, frivolous.

        Until now, there is no way to prevent people from suing anyone, even without any reason.

        That is why I say, if that guy sue, it would be

        • by KlaymenDK (713149)

          I can only say, it seems that we agree on *both* points.

          But, if one can really sue anyone without any reason, AND end up *not* paying the full fee after the inevitable loss, I shake my head in confusion as to how that's possible (it certainly does not seem fair). But I'm obviously not a lawyer (or even an American), so what do I know.

  • Make Your Own Game (Score:3, Insightful)

    by dcollins (135727) on Saturday March 13, 2010 @02:44AM (#31462350) Homepage

    These projects are all inherently self-defeating. The more success you generate with this project, the higher the probability that the copyright owner will take notice and come looking for money and/or termination of your work. It's happened many times.

    If you're a hobbyist, I think you're better off channeling your creative energies into designing your own game.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      In addition, this is my suggestion:

      The only way you can approach this really if you want to do what is right, is to talk with the current owner. Ask him in a respectful way what you have in mind, tell him where you are coming from, and see if you can work something out with him.

      How he came into this ownership is no one else's business to meddle with (but I certainly sympathize with why you'd bring that up).
      You could say it is similar to when one car driver asks another "The speed-limit signs say 60/MPH, bu

  • by Joce640k (829181) on Saturday March 13, 2010 @03:03AM (#31462422) Homepage

    You say: "Today, the game's creator no longer has legal rights to the name, however, he continued to work on the franchise for a while"

    So...

    a) The rights were purchased by somebody. People who purchase 'rights' are middlemen and don't give them up easily

    b) It's a franchise, and franchises are all about buying/selling of rights, ie. they want money from people in exchange for them.

    Bottom line: If whoever purchased the rights is in business, you better watch out.

    IANAL and you didn't say what the game was for some reason. If you're scared of mentioning the name then that speaks volumes in itself.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      If I were the owner of the franchise, what would be the first thing I'd do if someone contacted me, asking for the price of a license to a game that I had not cared about for decades? Ask Google? Find the name featured on Slashdot, as well as on dozens of slashdot mirrors? Now that would have some implications pricing-wise.

  • First of all, contact the copyright owner. It's not about how likely he is to pursue you legally, but the fact that if you are giving him the clear opportunity to pursue you legally, should you proceed without his knowledge. You can reiterate that you're not doing it for the money, and you can will his or his company's name somewhere on the program you're building.

    You make the point that both the game and the manual are pretty easy to find for free download, so either the copyright holder doesn't care ab
  • by RyatNrrd (662756)
    The copyright holder has not "done nothing with it". He's sat there on it waiting for some schmuck to infringe on his copyright. You don't want to be that schmuck.

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