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I am in the process of creating an online version of a popular board game. The rules of the game are taken from a version in a particular language.

The game would be completely free to play and all of the graphical components were produced independently (although very similar to the original ones).

The name of my game is different from the trademarked name, but the game rules are almost identical to the original board game.

Is this legal? What are the risks I would incur if I decide to make it publicly available?


Note: This question si diffent from "Does reproducing a board game as a video game violate copyright?" since it is specific to the game of Risk. Moreover, it explicitely asks about the legal consequences arising from distributing such an online game.

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    Does this answer your question? Does reproducing a board game as a video game violate copyright? – BlueDogRanch May 7 at 13:00
  • Not really, as that answer is too vague – Abramodj May 7 at 13:06
  • Moreover, the linked question does not say anything about the risks I would incurr in – Abramodj May 7 at 16:20
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    @BlueDogRanch: Well, maybe somebody could give a more precise answer, even "on the internet". I really don't see why you are being so rude here... I am just asking a question! – Abramodj May 7 at 16:59
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    As this question is clearly off-topic as a request for specifically legal advice ("my game", reference to specific named companies and products, "what risks do I incur?"), I have edited to generalise it. The answers here still work in the general case and for your particular concerns, to the extent that we can actually answer this question (although may need minor edits to remove specific references). – Nij May 7 at 23:31
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Intellectual property law varies considerably by jurisdiction, and doesn't just involve copyright, but also trademarks, and patents.

The first problem you are going to run into is that "Risko!" is probably protected as a commercial trademark rather than copyright. In the US at least, making minor changes to a trademark generally doesn't get you off the hook for unlicensed use. The owner of the "Risko!" trademark could bring suit against you for trademark infringement and it would be up to a judge or possibly a jury to decide whether "Risko" is different enough from "Risko!" that confusion would be unlikely. If they won the suit they could collect damages and their legal costs.

There was a protracted and important trademark lawsuit in the US over the names "Monopoly" and "Anti-Monopoly" for board games. An economist, Ralph Anspach, had introduced a game he called "Anti-monopoly". He was sued by the Parker Brothers company for infringing on their trademark for "Monopoly". After 10 years the US Supreme Court ruled in Anspach's favor, finding that "Monopoly" had become a generic term for a type of board game and was no longer a valid trademark.

You can't necessarily count on being "small potatoes" so that they'll simply ignore your possible infringement. In US law, failure to enforce their trademark rights can lead to the loss of trademark rights and remedies, so companies are less likely to let minor infringements slide. The situation in Italy may be different.

Your artwork and graphical components are another potential problem. Those probably are covered by copyright. Again, the holder of the copyright for the "Risko!" artwork could sue you for violating their copyright on the artwork. A judge or jury would then evaluate whether your artwork was "derivative" of the "Risko!" artwork. If the court finds that your artwork is derivative, you might have to pay damages and legal costs.

There are actually a ton of Risk inspired games already available online, but they seem to stay away from names that sounds anything like "Risk" and anything that looks like the Risk artwork.

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    An exchange of letters about a Risk clone has been reproduced here: groups.google.com/forum/#!topic/turborisk/26p_SQWpACk. – Lag May 7 at 19:07
  • tl;dr of the letter Lag posted: Lawyers representing Hasbro claim that a game called "Turbo Risk" violates their clients trademark "RISK" and their clients copyright of the game map and the game rules. – Philipp May 8 at 10:02
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    And by the way, the rest of the conversation is a pretty good example why you should let lawyers talk to lawyers. – Philipp May 8 at 10:09
  • And by the way, the software "TurboRisk" is still available, so I guess Mario Ferrari was not sued by Hasbro after all. See marioferrari.org/freeware/turborisk/turborisk.html – Abramodj May 9 at 11:14
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The analysis of @CharlesE.Grant is solid but fails to convey how clear it is that you would be in the wrong emphatically enough.

What you propose would be a blatant and clear violation of the derivative works right when it comes to copyright laws, and of the trademark laws when it comes to the name. It is nowhere close to being "fair use".

If prosecuted civilly, you would almost certainly lose. You would probably also be found to have committed a willful violation exposing you to additional penalties and punitive damages, and even to criminal liability.

The likelihood of being prosecuted civilly is greatly increased because the violation is so blatant and clear, and because it would be on the Internet, making it visible worldwide.

The mere fact that it is not done for profit does not relieve you of civil liability including large statutory damage awards and attorneys' fees awards. Liability on the order of tens of thousands of Euros is likely even if the site isn't very popular, and the liability could be much greater if the site was popular and the company could make a case that it lost business as a result (perhaps 10 Euros per user might be par for the course, although it could be a greater or smaller award than that).

There would be some risk (although probably much lower) of criminal sanctions such as incarceration, potentially up to five years or so in prison. But, if you didn't profit from the site, a long criminal sentence would be unlikely even if you were found guilty criminally.

It wouldn't necessarily be possible to escape the civil liability for a judgment based upon your willful disregard for copyright and trademark laws in bankruptcy either.

You would be well advised to abandon the project entirely.

This is actually an understatement. It would be stupid and foolish, verging upon economically suicidal, to go forward with this plan.

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  • "The mere fact that it is not done for profit" is relevant in at least the trademark analysis. – D M May 7 at 21:54
  • Project abandoned, even if with sadness. Thanks for your advice – Abramodj May 7 at 23:03

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