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Tetris Under Fire 93

Andrew Bednarz writes "How many people are aware of what The Tetris Company is doing? They're claiming they own copyright on "the look and feel and trade dress" of Tetris. They are attempting to remove all unauthorised tetris games!" Considering that there are dozens of tetris clones (many distributed under the GPL) I suspect their quest is futile. I'm not sure how I feal about this one. Their claim is probably legit, and the above story compares this to the industry allowing only one game in a genre, but tetris is tetris- its not a block game genre, its a specific game with rules we are all familiar with. Different side scrollers have different rules. Hmm. Wierd case. What do you think?
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Tetris Under Fire

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  • by Anonymous Coward
    I was always under the impression that the russian
    Alexander guy invented the concept, and didn't
    "license" it or anything. I thought the Tetris Co.'s copyright was merely in name. I guess they do have a point however, tetris is a very specific game. Wouldn't be hard to by-pass this though, there are many tetris-like games like Columns, Puyo Puyo etc.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Is Tetris "copyrighted"? by CmdrTaco on Saturday November 21st 98@09:56
  • by Anonymous Coward
    The one big problem I see with this is.. Is the Tetris Company ever going to make an 'Official' tetris for Linux? How about my TI-85? I can understand their view if the games are competing with theirs, but what about the ones that run on platforms that wouldnt generate any decent profit?
  • by Anonymous Coward
    My Windows copy says (not that I am using Windows)

    "Tetris is a trademark of Elorg

    Tetris copyright and trademark licensed to Sphere, Inc, and sublicensed to Microsoft Corporation."

    (I left out the part about M$ being the great universal Satan. but the rest is a direct copy.)

    Guess it is copyrighted. Can anyone add to this?
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Such as Borland vs Lotus, state that
    essential Look and Feel cant be copyrighted.

    i.e. For a spreadsheet, you can copyright the
    Lotus 123 sheet layout.

    Similarly, for a dropping blocks of four
    squares game, you cant copyright the look and
    feel itself, only implementations of it.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    a useful archive of stuff. []
  • by Anonymous Coward

    The Tetris corporation (or whatever) should get a new law firm. This one evidently doesn't understand the ramifications of the "look and feel" part.

    In some respects, it really is a shame that MS won the "look and feel" case Apple brought against them. It would have forced MS to do something truly innovative to win market share from Apple. But that was then and this is now and this Tetris company is tilting at windmills.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I'm under the impression that the tetris shapes are based on an ancient (i.e. before America was discovered) game called 'Pentominoes'. This involved fitting shapes, such as L - | etc, into different sized rectangles.

    The whole look and feel copyright is stupid as most design ideas are based partly on earlier ones. However I'm still convinced that microsoft will patent breathing one day.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    If there is a copyright, than that should be the end of the argument. Any blatant copies of the game are illegal and should not be distributed under any licences, especially the GPL. This type of thing will give Linux and the GPL a huge black eye. If it's ok to break this copyright because it is a popular game, why not break all copyrights; including music, books, magazines, hardware and software copyrights, etc. This is not Linux's area this is M$ specialty.
  • Trademark dilution only applies to stuff that has similar names. They're going after every Tetris clone, whatever the name.
  • Copyright is futile, at least in its present form.
    Instead of providing an infrastructure upon which
    the free market can evolve, it is more and more
    abused to destroy the very market it should
    help to flourish. Copyright and patents are used
    as means for destroying opponents, not as means
    to protect ones own products from misfits. Today,
    the copyright-holders, not anymore the "infringers" have become the biggest misfits.
    The Tetris company is a very nice example for this
    kind of miserable copyright-exploitation. Do nothing, buy copyrights, sue to world and make
    big money.

    This is a very serious issue for the whole society. If there isn't found a good solution
    we'll end up in a world looking like the worst
    nightmares of William Gibson.
  • This is kinda off-topic, but I thought it was close enough <g&gt.

    Does anyone know where I can find a Welltris clone? I used to have it for DOS, but now I can't find it anywhere :(.

    PS Though *nix versions are fine (of course), a Windoze version would also be acceptable, as I do end up there occasionally ;).

  • Like the mansion on the rainy night where the butler did it?

    This sort of thing goes on all the time, but only in the software field do we find so much flak over the subject.

    The biggest problem with the software industry today is that people see lots of money in it (thanks to M$). That sort of high payoff potental is just the sort of thing that attracts lawyors like bees to honey.
  • Posted by planders:

    There are only a few basic themes or genres in gaming. Of course good games take an interesting approach to an old subject. What's to stop people from ripping off Quake II? Nothing, in fact, look at all the people that succesfully have ... and of course Quake is highly derivative of Wolfenstein 3D, etc...

    There will always be tetris-like games until someone get a patent (god forbid) on that specific type of puzzle or something. Note I did not say copyright -- the most their enforcement means is that people will have to stop using the word "tetris" in their game's name ... hardly a big deal. Look at all the hundreds of local and store variations for Coca-Cola and Dr. Pepper ...

    I guess that means we're going to have to come up with a new name for that type of puzzle game.

    Any suggestions?

  • And besides, there is the trouble of trademark dilution, so they have to object to all unlicenced use.

    In the case of Tetris, I think that horse escapted from the barn a long time ago...
  • [] is down. This site had excelent java versions of Tetris and Pentix. Aparantly the maintainer of the site got a "cease and desist" letter.

    If you go to the site there is a vague explanation.
  • Thanks for your reply. I have to say that yours is absolutely the best java implimentation of Tetris that I have come across. Anyway, as far as I know, the only legitimate beef they have with you is your use of the "Tetris" trademark. It is interesting that they feel they own the right to the look and feel in such a broad sence that your "Colors" game infringes. It is pretty clear that they are overstepping the bounds of common sense. Of course, I am not a lawyer.

    If you look on the site, click on "the company" then "piracy", Then click on "Tetris is a copyrighted game -- what does this mean to me" they have the following quote:

    The protected expression of the TETRIS games is the concept of a "brick" or "block" game in which differently-shaped Tetranimoes, each including four cells (or even some other number), fall from the top of the screen and are arranged by the player to complete horizontal lines. Later versions of TETRIS, whether created by Elorg or others, are derivative works. These may not be made, used or distributed without the consent of the Tetris Company.

    This, in effect, says that anyone who distributes anything remotely like tetris is a pirate. Could this be grounds for a libel suit against them? I guess you would have to prove that they are knowingly damaging the reputations of freeware authors by calling them "pirates". Or something. Anyway, I Am Not A Lawyer.
  • The first Tetris I ever played was the one bundled with the original (b&w) Gameboy. It's a "legit" Tetris, and it's the best one ever. No Tetris clone that I've seen mimics it 100%.

    Does bending the rules and twisting the name evade this particular sort of liscensing?

  • Usually, the defendant files a countersuit against the plaintiff to recover legal fees, so that if the case is found to be meritless, the plaintiffs do have to pay.
  • The problem with that is that it means companies will be much less inclined to take an idea and improve it. It means that we'll be stuck with some copyrighted piece of software and have no way to recreate it in order to add features or take it in new directions without risking a copyright suit. In short, it would be bad for Linux and bad for the software industry as a whole.

    Face it. If companies had been this patent and copyright happy 20-30 years ago, we wouldn't have a Linux. We wouldn't have much of the software that we do have because someone else would have copyrighted some similar idea and nobody would have been able to write the software they wanted to write because they would have feared being sued.

  • by ninjaz ( 1202 )
    Quoth a blurb on Soon you will be able to play Tetris head to head on-line against a neighbor or someone half way around the world!

    How many years has xtris been doing this now?
  • You seem to have forgotten that the whole point of copyright & patent in the first place were to encourage new development. They were considered a necessary evil to get people to produce new, wondrous things. Since the system has been subverted so badly to accomodate greed, it's having the opposite effect. If it's no longer serving its original purpose, that truly is an issue.

    Of course, since it's been going on so long, it's just considered status quo, which people tend to equate with being ok.

  • Serves the colonies right for leaving in the first place... ;-)



  • go after the Brown Department of Computer Science. The primary intro course here requires the students to build a Tetris clone. It'd see whether this self-styled 'Tetris Company' is confident enough to take on a university rather than some student who can't afford to defend himself..

    (I remember seeing this before..the most amusing thing is where they refer to the creation of anything remotely similar to Tetris as 'piracy' and claim that these games are made from 'inferior materials'..)

  • For those of you interested, here is a link about the whole tetris history and why might have a valid claim. Still, I do not agree with the fact that they are after the little guys who are not making any money from their code.
  • I suspect they have a valid case: after all, this is a specific game. They don't seem to be going after tetris-like games (like hextris), but just clones.

    Unfortunately (for them...) this rings of the whole .GIF format battle a few years back -- they may have a valid case, but they have waited far too long to bring it. Somehow I doubt they'll be able to pull the clones now.

    just my USD$0.02
  • They don't own the Tetris copyright and they can't own it either. Tetris was created in the 60s/70s by a Russian scientist who refused to collect royalties. He essentially made the Tetris name concept and original source code public domain.

    If these yahoos choose to sue then take it to a british court because there is no way they can win.

    PS : In England, Jamaica and some other commonwealth countries the looser pays all the expenses and when you bring a merit-less case ( like this one ) the courts are extremely hard on you and have bean known to award punitive damages and to fine you for creating public mischief.
  • There is a Tetris included with every copy of QT and Troll Tech makes no claims about ownership that I am aware of other than "We wrote this toy so you can poke through the source and see how cool the QT tool kit is".

    Troll is small by corporate standards but it would be nice for these gays to pick on them since Troll would win easily and recoup the cost of going to court.
  • Look and Feel copyrights are bogus, and if this goes through it could ruin the software industry. Getting a look-and-feel copyright on tetris creates a slippery slope.

    Imagine if id wanted to get a look and feel copyright with wolfenstein and claim that all first person perspective 3D games with a gun were their invention. It would be a reasonable extrapolation if the look and feel of tetris could be copyrighted.
  • this isn't capitalism, it's extorsion and racketeering.
  • Tetris clones have been legally challenged for years. In the very late 80's and early 90's, when the Tetris clones first appeared, the Fred Fish Amiga archives was served with a "Cease and desist" letter to remove all Tetris clones from the archive. A similar thing happened to the Tengen version of Tetris for Nintendo in which Nintendo sued Tengen (an Atari subsidiary) because Nintendo paid Elog for the Tetris license while Tengen didn't. Nintendo won that case, as well as another case against Tengen that accused them of cracking the Nintendo lockout chip.

    How can this be news? This story is as old as the hills.


    Kriston J. Rehberg []

  • I hate to defend their argument, but it would be akin to a person writing a very successful novel involving very specific characters, then someone else coming along and using those characters and the environment in their own novel without even asking permission of the original author.

    ... except that this author didn't create his own characters, and so he can't claim much more ownership than anyone else.

  • There should be a lawing forbidding the articles found on Geocities to be posted on Slashdot. Seriously folks, we are just generating hits, giving Geocities all the more power to continue what thet are doing.

    Ah, I feel better. Back to coding...

    --Ivan, weenie NT4 user, Jon Katz hater: bite me!
  • HMM...
    I know for a fact that a russian guy made tetris.. and those guys just stole it and lisenced it..
    They just suck.
  • I wrote my own Tetris a while ago, so this issue is of particular concern to me. I have it on my website, but don't charge for it (how the hell are ya going to get anyone to buy a regular tetris game anyway?). I have not made a penny from making it, and never will - only wrote it for something fun to program and play. And until I recieve a court order to remove it, it's going to stay right where it is.

    I assume this is a small company, there's no way they have the resources to take every person who's ever written a tetris-like game to court. So I believe this is mostly a bluff.

    I don't understand why they have such a beef with us "tetris cloners" anyway. Why don't they spend their time making a newer version and sell it rather than removing all tetris clones and not making any money.
  • As stated in the letter, The Tetris Company is claiming a violation of a Look and Feel copyright. As has been tried several times over the years (Lotus vs. Borland, Apple vs. Microsoft) here in the states, Look and Feel copyrights are not (or at least have not been) enforced/enforceable.

    The problem is, as stated, the target is merely a student, and most likely doesnot have access to the required monies to defend himself in what passes for the court of law.

  • This is one of my favorite pet peeves. People don't understand how *wide* their definition of Tetris is. All games from tetris to wordtris to tetrisphere all had to be licensed from them, but all of those games are wildly different in actual play. If it has quadraminoes (?) and gravity, then they own it.

    Anyhow, what can they do besides send out "cease and desist" emails? Can't the project simply stop distributing their efforts? Or is that against the gpl? What if the project is using a "totally free" license?

    I'm working on a game in the same genre.. the game play is similar to tetris 2 (tetris flash) but there are instead 4 different colors and you have to get them 4-in-a-row to score. It is score-based (original tetris) as opposed to level-based (dr. mario) but I suck at coding :P (i have a working version, help?)
  • I think there time has passed.

    If the creator of Tetris had wanted to protect his copyright he should have done so long ago. Even if he couldn't afford to sue anyone, he should have protested anyway. By not doing so he gave people no reason to suspect that he was interested in the copyright of the game.

    Although IANAL, I would have thought that the copyright on the Tetris concept would have been diluted too much - Tetris appeared about 15 years ago, and to start trying to enforce copyright now is just too late. I know that the courts in the UK would throw this out without hesitation!

    Perhaps these developers should club together and get a restraining order placed against the Tetris company for threatening behaviour...
  • The "look and feel", as others have pointed out, seems to be a baseless claim, as no one has succeeded in winning a l&f case in court. But what about the "rules" to the game (which I think the company is really alluding to in its email)? Can you copyright those to some extent?

    If you took the game Monopoly, and replaced the squares and pawns with an "Open Source" theme (20 lines of source required to stay overnight on Debian Avenue, with the pawns being Eric Raymond, Richard Stallman, etc.), and just simply named it "The Bazaar", would you be in violation of Parker Brothers' copyright? The name doesn't sound like "Monopoly," but the rules and flow of the game are exactly like Monopoly's. I think you'd be asked to remove it pretty quickly from their legal team.

    A lot of shareware games have seemed to dodge this issue by modifying the game just slightly so that it feels a lot like the original game, but is tweaked just enough that it's not a blatant copy. I think of PacMan and Galaga in the early days (there was "MunchMan" on the TI-99/4A, for example, and Ambrosia Software [] made its business making copies of popular arcade titles). The precedent set in the industry, thus, seems to be that it's OK to copy an original, just as long as it's not an exact copy - i.e., add some "value" to it.

    I think it's an interesting issue because I'd like to do a PalmPilot-version of the board game Quorridor. It's a great game with simple rules, and can even be played with a piece of paper and pennies. But since its rules are so simple (and perfect they way they are right now, in my mind), I wouldn't change the rules a bit (and then, without a doubt, I'd be ripping off someone else's great idea).

    So, can you copyright the rules to a game?

  • Where it gets sort of fuzzy is the difference between a concept and a specific set of rules which govern the game. The concept of a flight simulator or a first person shoot-em up game is quite different than the exact rules of how a Tetris game proceeds. You can sit down and write out a clearly defined set of rules which govern the Tetris game; you can't do that with a flight sim or a Quake-like game. That is, you can say, "You have pieces of 4 blocks each, in each of these different shapes. They drop down and when a solid line is formed, it is removed, etc."

    You might argue that you can say, "Well, in Quake, you shoot at something, and when it gets so many bullets, it dies. And you have health, which can be replenished with a med pack, etc." These "rules" are much more vague than the Tetris rules, and allow for a lot of room for interpetation. Hence, no one is suing over Quake-like games.

    What is needed is someone familiar with this type of law to take a look at the case.

  • Email:

    Tell them that they are going to be associated with a company that tries to enforce a copyright by attacking the little guys first to support an unfounded copyright claim (see Apple vs. Microsoft).
  • If you release a tetris clone, you are in no way allowed to use the name "Tetris" in the game, because of it's stranglehold on that trademark. You can not even name your website a derivitive of the Tetris name
  • Sure, they can trademark the term "Tetris", but
    if they try to claim a copyright on the look and
    feel of the Tetris game concept, it should be
    fought in court. If a look and feel copyright were
    allowed to stand, it would set a dangerous precedent. Imagine if Apple had been able to copyright some of their GUI interface ideas, and thus control them for 95 years. Imagine if visicalc had copyrighted the spreadsheet interface.
  • by Zebulun ( 14800 )
    Tetris is everywhere. Hell, i had it on my
    TI-85 for awhile. And its not exactly a hard
    one to code either. And even if they do have
    it copyrighted, does anyone care? I mean, who
    the hell are they going to sue. Its even out
    there as Java applets. I think this is just
    another lamer company trieing to twistlasws to
    make em rich.
  • by fuerstma ( 15683 )
    It really is sad that most of the posters cannot see past the end of their very own nose. Yeah, it may be unfortunate that the Tetris Company isn't going to make a Tetris for Linux, but the own the damn rights to it. As long as it's something you want, then you will piss and whine about it, but if Microsoft is doing such a thing or if YOU own the rights to a property, I am sure you would be less than thrilled with other people making money off your property. Check your heads.
  • I don't mean to sound overly suspicious, but has this been confirmed? Specifically, has the story appeared anywhere other than a Geocities site?
    I merely ask because if you check out, you'll see quite a few messages posted on the boards about people looking for specific clones. Hosting these messages doesn't sound like the work of a rabid, lawyer-influenced capitalist.
  • I am usually against patents crap but in this case, I am with the creator. Tetris is a unique game concept so if he wants it public domain, so be it. If he wants to protect it, so be it. These sort of things are hard to come by. If I was in his position I would feel robbed if somebody comes up with a Tetris rip-off.

    Nope, I don't really care about Doom or Street Fighter ripoffs. I don't see them as being unique as Tetris.

  • I guess that means we're going to have to come up with a new name for that type of puzzle game.
    Any suggestions?

    That's what any decent recreational mathematician would call the pieces, anyway.

    IAKAL^H^H^HNAL, but I think it would be hard to get a patent on it because of the existence of prior art - read Martin Gardner's books, or his old columns in Scientific American (sorry for the lack of specific issues or books, but its been 5 years since I was on a recreational math kick). Puzzles of the sort of "Fit the tetrominoes into a given space" have been around for a while. I just don't know if the vague concept of "pieces dropping from the sky" is patentable. I suppose if they were specific enough (there are 20 rows, each one is 17 squares wide, pieces drop at the rate of 1.32 squares per second, increasing each level by .15 squares per second, to a maximum etc. etc.) it might be patentable, but it would be easy to modify their specific numbers and get around it.
  • i before e except after c.

    So how do you explain this sentence:
    "Einstein reigns over ancient scientists."
  • Well how about chess, hearts, spades, checkers, poker, slot machines? All these things were made up by /someone/ but that doesn't mean that I can't carve checkers out of wood and play in back yard or sell my homemade checker set if I wish. Frivilous law suits should be punished by the plaintif paying for all court costs as well as a fine like some countries do. It just backs up the legal system so that murderers and and rapists are not brought to justice as quickly as the should be.
  • Being a capitalizt, I have to be opposed to
    any claim of owning "intelectual property" and
    all that. Of course, this means I have to be
    for Microsloth in the anti-trust case, but
    I can deal. This is obviously a case where a
    large company is trying to bully the little guy.
    Let them take you to court! You'll win and
    change some _very_ bad precidents that have been
  • Nintendo itself has set a precedent. They successfully got all copies of the great C64 game "The Great Giana Sisters" off the shelf. Giana Sisters was an excellent remake of Super Mario Brothers, except with female heroines (unheard of in those pre-Lara Croft days) and lots of different characters. The game used no Nintendo copyrighted names, characters or artwork. But apparently Nintendo felt it owned the rights to any game where you run, jump, bop blocks and stomp on enemies. I don't know whether or not Nintendo legitimately won its case in front of a judge. But I DO know that they sued, and as a result, Giana Sisters ceased to exist except on a few C64 diehards' machines, whether real or emulated.

    The precedent set is, basically, that all game clones are illegal. Guess this means I should stop working on GNUdius....

A mathematician is a device for turning coffee into theorems. -- P. Erdos