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Subject: Selling game modifications and the legal issues involved rss

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Xelto G
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Is there anywhere information on potential legal problems with selling modifications to professionally printed games? I am not planning on using any of the art from the original game, or anything else that might be considered copyrighted in that fashion. I just want to make sure I'm dodging any other possible problems.

I'm also, for what it's worth, not trying to make a huge profit. The game in question is Merchant of Venus, second edition. The game changed significantly from the first edition, with some great ideas... and a whole lot of stuff that meant excessive pointless dice rolling, and fiddly rules that didn't make the game any better. I've come up with a modified version that more or less combines the best of the two editions. And being the person I am, I'm planning to get some nice-quality components for this mod through one of the print-on-demand places. And if I go through that much trouble, it would be nice to share the game with anyone else interested.

As such, any sort of legal headache just isn't worth it, since I'm not trying to make a large profit, just enough to cover the costs and possibly a small bit extra. I don't think there's anything that could cause a problem so long as I avoid copyrighted materials... but I wanted to be sure.

Anyone able to point me in the right direction?

Edit: I would like to thank everyone who's given me advice. I got the information I needed. If it's a topic that interests you and you want to keep up the discussion, that's fine, but don't keep it up simply for my sake.
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Anthony C
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Sorry that I'm not a legal professional here but if companies like Meeplesource can sell their products specifically marketed towards use in specific games, I doubt you'll run into any issues. Granted, I don't know the extent to which companies like MS reach out to boardgame companies but I'd argue that as long as you're not using any copyrighted materials, you should have zero problem. Broken Token is another model that specifically targets their products for use in named games but I've never heard of anyone being sued over it.

And that's to say nothing of the boardgame accessory sellers on Etsy and thingverse.
 
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J J
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Let me see if I've got this right.

You wish to sell a modified version of Merchant of Venus, and advertise it as such, yes? Not simply some pretty meeples that just happen to suit a particular game.

You will receive a cease and desist from Fantasy Flight, the company that currently licences the rights and trademarks involved. This will be followed by ruinous litigation.

Copyright won't even come into it. Nor will your intentions.
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Xelto G
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JasonJ0 wrote:
You will receive a cease and desist from Fantasy Flight, the company that currently licences the rights and trademarks involved.

Trademarks, that's what was tickling my mind. Thanks. I knew I was overlooking some basic element to the whole thing.

Quote:
This will be followed by ruinous litigation.

Well, I don't have anything worth them going after, so it wouldn't be much of a ruin. But a serious nuisance.
 
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Robert Wesley
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whistle "Merchants are from VENUS & Ziggy & the Spiders are from MARS!" robotrobot
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J J
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Xelto wrote:
JasonJ0 wrote:
You will receive a cease and desist from Fantasy Flight, the company that currently licences the rights and trademarks involved.

Trademarks, that's what was tickling my mind. Thanks. I knew I was overlooking some basic element to the whole thing.

Quote:
This will be followed by ruinous litigation.

Well, I don't have anything worth them going after, so it wouldn't be much of a ruin. But a serious nuisance.


They aren't going after anything in particular - the purpose of litigation is not to take all your money, but to stop you from doing something. And whether or not you have much to lose, you will still have to defend yourself in court, with all the costs associated.
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Andy Burgess
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IANAL, but it seems to me that selling a modification for a game is very different to selling a modified version of that game. I think if you were doing the former, which it sounded like you want to do, no-one would have the right to do anything about it. In fact, even if it turned out to be a popular mod, that could only improve sales for the base game, couldn't it?

Even if you were to sell the original game with the modification, if they were packaged separately - i.e. if the original game is still shrink wrapped, what could they do?

But why not ask them what they'd think about it? Can't do any harm...
 
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Maarten D. de Jong
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Xelto wrote:
Anyone able to point me in the right direction?

Here.

You get into territory of fan made-expansions here, methinks. Some companies refuse to support these while others welcome them, and there's no predicting which path a company will take. Avoiding copyrighted text and imagery is definitely a plus, but I can't see you avoiding trademarks (if these exist), and for using those you will need prior permission. Whether you make money is completely irrelevant at this stage.

Talk things over with your lawyer, contact FFG in the event there are no immediate and obvious issues, and work from there.
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J J
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MercifulBiscuit wrote:
IANAL, but it seems to me that selling a modification for a game is very different to selling a modified version of that game. I think if you were doing the former, which it sounded like you want to do, no-one would have the right to do anything about it. In fact, even if it turned out to be a popular mod, that could only improve sales for the base game, couldn't it?

Even if you were to sell the original game with the modification, if they were packaged separately - i.e. if the original game is still shrink wrapped, what could they do?

But why not ask them what they'd think about it? Can't do any harm...


What could they do? Seriously? shake
 
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Xelto G
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Everyone, thanks for the replies. As I mentioned, I had been sitting around, thinking, "It can't be this easy, I know I'm overlooking something basic." Which was trademarks.

I have done a few things with FFG, so I may end up contacting them down the line about it, depending on how the final product works out, and if I think it's worth sharing. Otherwise, I'll probably have a one-off done for me personally, not for for sales elsewhere. (And since FFG might have to ask Hasbro about it, depending on how their licensing agreement was written, that might kill any chances I would have, even if FFG likes what I did.)

JasonJ0 wrote:
What could they do? Seriously? shake


If trademarks are like copyrights (laws I'm more familiar with), they would have to do the legal stuff to keep their rights. And even needing to drive to Minnesota to show up in court is more hassle than this is worth.
 
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Maarten D. de Jong
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Xelto wrote:
If trademarks are like copyrights (laws I'm more familiar with), they would have to do the legal stuff to keep their rights. And even needing to drive to Minnesota to show up in court is more hassle than this is worth.

Trademarks require defending, continuously, because judges will not rule in favour of a specific trademark if the owner is proven to be lax with the trademark in other cases. Needing to drive to Minnesota is really no problem at all; and if need be they will authorise someone to represent them right in Minnesota.

Please be advised that this sort of adversarial statement ('is more hassle than this is worth') will be used against you should the need arise. Therefore play it safe, and seek legal advice. At the very least it shows proper consideration and respect.
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Boaty McBoatface
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Remember, they can copyright a game. But the mechanics are harder.

Maybe you should re-theme it and make the needed changes to create (in effect) a different game that uses similar mechanics.

Examples

Change the map to that of the solar system. Have the routes go to different planets (or even asteroids).


 
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Daniel Piovezan
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Can't you just use a different name? Traders of Jupiter? Like they did in AsoBrain?

It MIGHT happen that people will call you a douche for ~sTeAlInG oThEr PeOpLe'S iDeAs~, and promote a boycott against you.
 
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Xelto G
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slatersteven wrote:
Remember, they can copyright a game. But the mechanics are harder.

Maybe you should re-theme it and make the needed changes to create (in effect) a different game that uses similar mechanics.


Thanks, but that's far more than I had in mind. (What I had was a simple 60-card deck, a sheet of counters, and a few stickers for the board.) If I'm going to be part of publishing a game, it's going to be my own design, or one that one of my family members came up with.
 
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Maarten D. de Jong
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slatersteven wrote:
Remember, they can copyright a game. But the mechanics are harder.

No, they cannot copyright a game. Copyrighted is only the literal text of the rules, its layout (being a work of art and all) and the actual artwork. Mechanisms cannot be copyrighted, although they can be patented (but this is extremely rare). Finally certain words, phrases, and depictions can be trademarked: 'Magic: The Gathering' is protected thusly, for example. And unfortunately for the OP, so is Merchant of Venus.

But don't assume that carefully rephrasing the rules in your own words, supplying your own artwork, and avoiding any trademarks will put you in the clear. A year or two back I found some very interesting jurisprudence about these matters—in sofar they made it to court in the first place, because litigation is often too expensive, alas—which showed that judges also tend to look at how 'original' the material is. There's all sorts of wriggle room here. Just look at Wordfeud: to me that's just Scrabble with a different letter and board distribution. But apparently it's still sufficiently different, something that has been confirmed by several courts all over the world in various Scrabble vs. Scrabble-lookalike court cases.

Again, your lawyer is your friend. But ultimately, the proof is in the court pudding of course.
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Brent Gerig
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cymric wrote:
Xelto wrote:
If trademarks are like copyrights (laws I'm more familiar with), they would have to do the legal stuff to keep their rights. And even needing to drive to Minnesota to show up in court is more hassle than this is worth.


Please be advised that this sort of adversarial statement ('is more hassle than this is worth') will be used against you should the need arise. Therefore play it safe, and seek legal advice. At the very least it shows proper consideration and respect.


I believe that Xelto meant that it was more hassle for *him* to drive to Minnesota, where FFG is located and therefore where the hypothetical court case would be, than it was worth to distribute his modification. But yes, actual legal advice is always a good idea.
 
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Xelto G
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flaquito wrote:
I believe that Xelto meant that it was more hassle for *him* to drive to Minnesota, where FFG is located and therefore where the hypothetical court case would be, than it was worth to distribute his modification. But yes, actual legal advice is always a good idea.

Pretty much. Of course, I could hire a lawyer to represent me, but that would be even more hassle than driving to Minnesota. So I'm going to go with one of the two easiest solutions of all... either talk to FFG first, or simply print off something for my own enjoyment and not worry about sharing with the world.
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Timothy Adamson
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MercifulBiscuit wrote:
IANAL, but it seems to me that selling a modification for a game is very different to selling a modified version of that game. I think if you were doing the former, which it sounded like you want to do, no-one would have the right to do anything about it. In fact, even if it turned out to be a popular mod, that could only improve sales for the base game, couldn't it?

Even if you were to sell the original game with the modification, if they were packaged separately - i.e. if the original game is still shrink wrapped, what could they do?

But why not ask them what they'd think about it? Can't do any harm...


Actually, based on the legal concept of exhaustion/first sale, you may have an easier time selling modified versions of the game. The idea is that once they've sold it, the IP owner doesn't have any more control. This is US specific. I know in at least some other countries this is not the case. For example, in some countries you can't freely sell used books.

In terms of copyright, just make sure you didn't copy of any creative elements of the game (text/images). You could, however, take a pen to the rulebook to cross things out and add things.

Patents are unlikely to come into it, as others have said, but you could do a search.

Trademark is the likeliest culprit, but by selling a bona fide copy of the game with whatever modifications you should easily avoid any issues here, because it actually is what you are saying it is (the game in question).

But, alas, IANAL.
 
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Runs with scissors
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Here's an ongoing thread discussing IP issues and game design. You may find some information in it useful, or not (YMMV).

MythBusting: Game Design and Copyright, Trademarks, and Patents (US Law)
 
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Daniel Piovezan
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Hm, now I just remembed the case of BANG! versus Legends of the Three Kingdoms. Legends is pretty much a Chinese clone of Bang. There are differences, but they're still pretty close.

I once read a very thorough article on the case, but can't find it now. From what I recall, when they decided to publish Legends in the USA, they got sued by the publishers of Bang. They never actually went to trial (they had some sort of preliminary analysis by a judge, but no trial), but it was enough to pressure them into an agreement.
 
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