IP Law for Games

Since most video games include various elements such as graphics, music and computer codes, these elements may be entitled to other types of IP protection. Some examples include:

  • Trademark - protects an unique branding element that distinguishes a company from its competitors in an industry. Trademark can apply to things such as the names, logos, designs and characters. For example, the Super Mario character and the PS4 logo. Registration is not required in Canada and U.S. but is recommended if there is commercial value in a product or service. In Canada, trademark protection lasts for 10 years and renewals of registration are available. 
  • Patent - protects a new and "useful" invention, tool, machine, or mechanical/technical process. Game rules and methods of play may not be entitled for copyright protection but can be protected through patent registration.* For example, Apples to Apples and Monopoly have patent protection for their modes of play. Software are also common for patent registration. Unlike copyright and trademark, registration is necessarily in order to receive patent protection. 
  • Industrial Design - protects the original visual, aesthetic design of a product. For example, the unique shape and design of a console accessory and graphic user interface of a game. Industrial design registration is less common. 

Since copyright is limited in its scope of protection, some professionals in the game industry obtain multiple IP registrations in order to protect their assets.**   

*Source: Chellgren, B.W. (2016). Copyright law does not protect structure and game play of card game . Retrieved from https://www.lexology.com/library/detail.aspx?g=05891d4f-1658-4f00-884f-8310cfeb4b0f

**Source: Sanft, J. (2017). Get your IP game on: intellectual property protection and video games. Retrieved from https://www.thebrandprotectionblog.com/get-your-ip-game-on-protection-video-games/?utm_source=Mondaq&utm_medium=syndication&utm_campaign=View-Original


Looking for potential game / video assets? Visit our Open Education Resources guide!

Obtaining Permission

The following section makes some references to film making but the information is also relevant to game creators.

If your use does not fall under fair dealing or another exception available under the Copyright Act, you would need to obtain permission from the creator or rights holder (if the creator transferred the copyright to someone else) to use a copyright protected work. Also, if you are unsure on whether your use complies with copyright, you should also consider obtaining permission or use another copyright compliant option.

See below for a sample permission request letter and music licence agreements. However, please check first with your instructor to see if there is another template letter they recommend for you to use.

Copyright in Video Games

Over the years of doing Game Theory, people have had one MAJOR problem with the series - the use of fanart. And since I'm covering the Scott Fan Art Issue as well, I figured what better day than today to address it. I've done my best to set rules in place to keep fanart out of Game Theory but accidents happen and things slip through the cracks. Today I am setting the record straight on Game Theory and fanart. Plus, hopefully giving you fan artists some advice on how to keep your fanart from being stolen.

Just a little while ago, Scott Cawthon resurfaced with a FNAF 7 teaser image that was quickly removed because - SHOCKER - it contained fan created models of the FNAF characters. If that sounds complicated, the short of it is that Scott (or rather his team) used fanart in their official teaser image. Those of us who have been on the internet for a little while know that is a big no-no. Yet if Scott owns the characters, but the fan artist owns the fanart, who has a right to the art? It's the big copyright paradox! Today I aim to unravel that knot!

Terms of Use

This guide has been adapted from the CLO Learning Portal Copyright page (archived) and the Faculty Toolkit.

This site was designed solely for informational purposes for St. Lawrence College faculty, staff and students. All other users are encouraged to check and confirm the information with their institution(s). This site is prepared by library staff and is not reviewed by legal counsel.