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I made a mod for this free online indie web-browser game. A snapshot of the website 2 weeks ago on waybackmachine.com shows no copyright logo or Terms of Service anywhere on the page saying it's copyrighted. The developer of the game found out about my mod and tweeted that he would get it shut down. The developer has since put up a Terms of Service on the game's website that says all works are copyrighted and modifying the game is illegal. He then contacted google and got my mod taken down and I received a copyright strike on the chrome extensions store.

I don't really care about the mod anymore but can I get into legal trouble for this?

Edit: I should also add that the mod I made was free and the game is also free to play.

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The web-browser game was copyrighted the moment it was created by the individual. It did not need a copyright notice to be copyrighted, or a TOS to inform you of copyright. The individual was fully within the law to claim infringement and demand you stop disturbing your mod as an unauthorized change to their game. They should have had a TOS up when they started distributing the game, but that's their choice.

The developer could - or have their attorney - send their own legal "takedown notice" of infringement directly to you rather than Tweet about it or approach Google.

Google's takedown and your "copyright strike" is different than your original copyright violation and involves Google's TOS - Google Chrome Web Store Developer Agreement | Google Chrome - regarding copyright violations of apps and code under distribution. By your use of the store, Google reserves the right to remove your extensions when there are

...violations of intellectual property rights, including patent, copyright, trademark, trade secret, or other proprietary right of any party,...

And, the original game being free and your mod being free rarely matters in copyright law and in cases of infringement. That's something a court would decide on the case and in looking at precedent(s).

...can I get into legal trouble for this?

You could be sued by the maker of the game in civil court; that's up to them. Google's recourse is to simply remove the mod from the store and possibly restrict your use of their service(s), according to their TOS.

For more background, see the Law SE Meta post I have a question about copyright. What should I read before I ask it? .

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As noted by Blue Dog Ranch, a copyright arises by operation of law automatically when a work is created.

But, to bring suit in court, you must register the copyright with the Copyright Registrar before the lawsuit is filed.

Failing to have a copyright notice in place when the infringement takes place limits the remedies available to you in the lawsuit, but does not invalidate the copyright or deny you any remedies at all.

So, you could be sued for copyright infringement, in addition to the sanctions that you have already experienced, but those consequences would be more limited. Attorneys' fee and statutory damages could not be awarded against you, and the copyright would not have a presumption of validity (which is present if the copyright registration is more than five year old). The only damages that could be recovered from you would be actual damages without attorneys' fees, which would probably be very modest in the fact pattern that you describe.

  • But, to bring suit in court, you must register the copyright with the Copyright Registrar before the lawsuit is filed. I have consulted to the Telecom industry for 30 years where copyright was a constant part of my work. This statement is factually untrue. We have sought and won all of our cases and in no case was a copyright ever filled. – closetnoc Jun 18 '18 at 7:02
  • "Except for an action brought for a violation of the rights of the author under section 106A(a) [moral rights], and subject to the provisions of subsection (b), no civil action for infringement of the copyright in any United States work shall be instituted until preregistration or registration of the copyright claim has been made in accordance with this title. In any case, however, where the deposit, application, and fee required for registration have been delivered to the Copyright Office in proper form and registration has been refused . . ." 17 USC § 411(a). The exceptions are very narrow. – ohwilleke Jun 18 '18 at 21:34
  • It is a proceedural step in filling a copyright claim with the copyright office. You are right. However, it does not stop a legal claim from being filed and sought in any federal court. Otherwise it would be completely impractical since the system is not designed for all that the law covers. Cheers!! – closetnoc Jun 18 '18 at 22:11
  • @closetnoc You don't file copyright claims with the copyright office, you file copyright claims in federal court after registering your copyright. A "civil action for infringement" is a federal court case. Failing to register your copyright before bringing suit is grounds for a motion to dismiss the case immediately. – ohwilleke Jun 18 '18 at 23:47
  • You can file a claim with the copyright office. However, all my cases were filed in federal court and not once have we ever filled any copyright. We never lost a case. I did this for all of the major telecoms in the world in the U.S. for 30 years. I do recognize the copyright law, however, that requirement has never been enforced. Not that I have seen. Of course I am not working with written or recorded works. I am working with technology products which is why I say it is not always practical. Not arguing. Just telling you my experience. Cheers!! – closetnoc Jun 18 '18 at 23:59

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