Keeping tabs on your game development legal issues this Spring
The Spring Equinox has passed us by, so it’s time to get your house in order, legal-wise. What does this mean? Well, I’m going to break it down into the some of the categories I usually use when discussing game development legal issues. We’ll look at each one and make sure you’ve got all your ducks in a row.
Are you acting like a business?
If you are developing games for the public, particularly when you are charging for them, you are a business. This means that you need to act like one!
I generally counsel any client who is in business to form a business entity separate from themselves. This can help to limit liability, protect their personal assets and project a professional appearance when dealing with others. It may also provide tax incentives, depending on the state and the business structure chosen.
When you’ve formed a separate business, you need to follow through and act like one. This means a few things:
Keeping up with your ongoing corporate compliance;
Keeping separate bank accounts and accounting statements; and
Maintaining the integrity of your brand and trademarks, among other things.
If you fail to do these things properly, you could lose that limited liability (particularly if you are a single member LLC).
Do you own your game content?
Springtime (or any time, really) is a good time to check on your contracts, or lack thereof. As I’ve covered before, contracts are an important part of your overall intellectual property ownership strategy, especially when you use independent contractors. They don’t call them “contract”ors for nothing, you know.
Without a written contract with those who are working for you, you may not own the content that they are creating. Not having the copyright on your game’s art, music or software code could lead to numerous problems down the road:
The owner of those assets could demand a licensing fee;
Potential licensors or purchasers of your company could be lost due to the broken chain of title;
You may be limited in your ability to exploit the software as a whole; and
You could be subject to a lawsuit over those rights.
Getting an agreement in place isn’t as difficult as you might think. In fact, I’m working on a new sitethat will allow you to do that quickly and within your budget. In the meantime, why not contact a game lawyer to draft a contract template that you can use for all of your contractors?
Are you avoiding any infringement?
Intellectual property infringement is a big deal that can cost you a lot of money and stop the distribution of your game. Beyond just owning the content created by contractors, you need to make sure that you either own or have a license to use whatever you are distributing to the public.
This includes both content within the game itself and content used in your blog posts or advertising surrounding the game. You can’t just grab photos off of Google Images without permission or use plugins and software within your game without the proper licensing.
Failure to pay attention to this stuff can bite you in the ass down the line (particularly after you’ve made money and have become a target).
Have you registered your intellectual property?
If you are using a brand name in the marketplace, you have a minimum level of protection for that trademark. However, there’s not really much you can do with it without a federal or state registration.
Someone coming after you for using their name? You have a federal registration with a date of your first use in commerce as a shield against these attacks.
For those who value their intellectual property, a trademark registration is a no-brainer. You’re pouring lots of time and money into your brands – why not treat them like the important assets that they are?
Copyright is a similar situation. While you have copyright protection at the moment you put the idea into a “tangible medium,” you can’t really do much with it. In order to sue someone for copyright infringement, you need to have registered.
Registration of these two types of IP also have other benefits, including the ability to stop imports of counterfeit products and the use of the ® symbol instead of ™ (which means that it’s registered).
That's not all, of course...
This is just a little bit of what you need to be looking out for. If you are raising funds, for instance, it is important to not run afoul of securities laws (if you’re providing some kind of investment opportunity in your company).
Hopefully this post at least serves as a reminder that this kind of thing is important. In an era where lawsuits over cloned games are increasing in number, making sure that you’re on the right side of the law in all aspects can be more important than ever.
If you need help with your spring cleaning, why not contact a game lawyer? Or check out my free game development legal eBooks for more information on these important issues.