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How Minecraft sidesteps legal issues

While games like City of Heroes have been subject to copyright lawsuits, as part of a new Gamasutra feature, law professor Greg Lastowka explains how the on
While games like City of Heroes have been subject to copyright lawsuits, as part of a new Gamasutra feature, law professor Greg Lastowka explains how the online indie mega-hit avoids legal troubles. Whether by necessity or by design, the "create anything" game manages to isolate itself from legal issues by one simple fact: it does not host user-created content, writes Lastowka. Marvel sued NCsoft over City of Heroes character creator, which players used to duplicate popular super heroes (or, in other words, infringe on Marvel's IP). "The Digital Millennium Copyright Act provides a safe harbor for service providers who unknowingly store infringing material that is created by users of the service: i.e. infringing superhero avatars created by players," the lawyer states. "However, to comply with the DMCA, the game company must follow certain formal requirements, including designating a DMCA agent and instituting a procedure for the swift removal of infringing content upon notification," writes Lastowka. "If NCSoft was right, any game company that hosts player-created content should be able to take advantage of the DMCA procedures and avoid liability for player infringements. For over a decade, this has been the general rule: the DMCA protects online hosts from secondary liability for copyright infringement claims. Smart game companies use the DMCA as a shield." However, writes Lastowka, "If you make Minas Tirith in Minecraft, you probably haven't talked with the Tolkien estate, so what makes you think you have a right to build on Tolkien's creativity? (Perhaps you do have a 'fair use' right, but some lawyers might disagree -- fair use is a very fuzzy legal doctrine.)" "Unlike NCSoft, however, Mojang does not need to worry about the risk of copyright-infringing players. That's because Mojang does not host player content on proprietary servers and this largely frees Mojang from the DMCA system and the risk of copyright infringement liability." The full feature, in which Lastowka explores how the DMCA is currently under legal attack, and argues about how Minecraft's core focus on creation could not have come out of the mainstream industry, is live now on Gamasutra.

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