Before I start off telling the world the numerous ways in which different parts of a video games can be protected as an intellectual property, I must admit that I don’t play video games myself and all my knowledge about it is limited to all that I hear about it from friends and colleagues. Though video games have never really fascinated me, when I started reading and knowing more about them (purely for research!), it’s definitely something I wanted to try my hand at!

Since there are quite a few aspects to be covered, the first part of my article is limited to protection of video games under the laws of copyright. So a video game is also a like a cinematographic work in the sense that there are a bundle of rights that are involved – the source code, story line, graphics, characters, background music and so much more. Each of these parts of a video game can be protected under the laws of copyright as different type of work.

Literary work

Source Code – The computer program that is the basis for the video game can be protected as a literary work. However, in case you have improvised on the basis of on an existing software (say, a platform/resources provided by Qualcomm) and made changes to it and even created something entirely, protection may be difficult. This is because Qualcomm or any such existing software will have complete rights to the source code and therefore filing a copyright application for only the modified or improvised part, may not be practically possible. Having said that, for all the genius game developers who’ve come up with awesome games on their own, copyright protection is definitely worthwhile.

Story line – From all that I’ve read and heard, I gather that for any player it is the story line that keeps the excitement going [I’ve only played pac-man which has a simple but riveting plot]. The script of the video game itself can be protected as a copyright. This is not only to get protection for yourself but to prevent other players in the market from stealing what’s rightfully yours.

Characters ­– Just like there specific characteristics that we associate Sherlock Holmes and Harry potter with, in the gaming world characters (Agent 47, Desmond Miles – Altair/Ezio) are specifically known for the characteristics. So their characteristics, though can be used and played differently by the players, can be protected as a literary work.

Though copyright protection isn’t mandatory, filing an application is advantageous as it helps to establish the date when it was first used, which would be otherwise difficult with the case of computer programs and even the story line, in this case.

Artistic work

Screen shots – When there particular parts of the video game that need to be protected, then copyright applications can be filed for the screen shots. This will come under the category of an artistic work under the copyright law. However, in the case of video games, there’s way too much that can be protected as an artistic work, so selecting those parts of the video game that are most susceptible to being ripped off would be a start!

Packaging – I’m sure most fans buy the video game after a lot of research and review and not just buy it for the fancy picture on the cover, but you cannot override the importance of an attractive cover. Since that image will probably be one that stands out from the game, it may be wise to protect it as an artistic work.

Sound Recording

The background music adds to the overall experience of the game because of the thrill and excitement that it adds to it. If the game developer has come up with a score of his own, then protection can be sough as a sound recording under the copyright law. However, if you’re using a background score that has been created by someone, obtaining a license to do so is definitely a must.

I was a fair bit surprised myself to know that there are so many aspects to a video game that can be protected as a copyright. Like I started off by saying, it’s almost like a cinematographic film in terms of the wide variety of copyrights involved.

Apart from copyright protection, there are other intellectual property rights (trademark and patent) under which video games can be protected. So what happens when you use trademarks form the real world in a video game? Do you need a license to use those trademarks? It is possible to patent a video game since it may fall under the category of a software patent? Can accessories used in the video games be patented? Answers to all that and more read my article on video games and trademarks.

This article has been authored by Nikita, an IP Law practitioner.