I've been working on a pc/mobile game that deals with various party games, and I'm hesitant to start adding in any well known games like Mahjong or Shogi because I am unable to find any concrete answers on what the copyright situation is.

I've been able to find some analogous information on things like chess, where the art/rulebook/pieces are copyrighted, but the board and moves are not, so you can change what the pieces look like and face no legal issues.

I've also seen things like with Disney and the Grim Fairytales, where the Fairytales are technically public domain, the adaptations are not, so various parts of them are subject to Disney's copyright. They may not be able to win a case, but they could bankrupt you in court if they so desired.

I assume the case is similar with Mahjong because it's thousands of years old, but the pieces art could be copyrighted, so I would have to make similar but not identical art?

I know there's no cut and dry answer to this, but any food for thought would be appreciated. Thanks in advance guys!!

1 Answer 1


Generally speaking:

The 'mechanics' of a game (its concepts, systems or processes) are not capable of being copyrighted.

The expression of the mechanics i.e. the written rules, can be copyright.

Other expressions e.g. the game board design, piece design, packaging and such can be copyright.

Unique and nonobvious mechanics could be patented. But patents don't last for thousands of years.

A game name could be trademarked.

See for example: Not Playing Around: Board Games and Intellectual Property Law - Daniel J. Schaeffer, American Bar Association

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