As a group of friends we started coding a computer game based on a board game called A (insert a board game, like monopoly). There are already digital forms of the game around made by the original owners (like hasbro). Are we legally allowed to sell (or giveaway, since we don't know if we actually want to sell it or release it as a free game) copies of our game which basically has the same rules/mechanics of the board game it is based on. If we can, what do we need to look out for when releasing the game?

I heard names are subject to copyright/trademark, that means if we name our game A the Digital Version we'll get in trouble. We want to know what not to do when releasing our implementation of the game.

Why we are asking if this is copyright infringement is because we are only "copying" the rules/mechanics of the game, while all the art/music/code are done by us. Does this count as transformative? Is this allowed? If simply "copying" the mechanics do not count as transformative, is adding or removing to/from the said mechanics count?

  • The rights associated with "copyright" also include the right to create "derivative works" of the copyrighted work, so the mere fact that it is not a copy does not in and of yourself protect you.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented May 17, 2021 at 23:29

2 Answers 2


You need to check if the original game developers patented the mechanics/rules of the game. For your example, Monopoly was patented, but expired in the 50s and while it would not be a copyright violation to mimic the rules/mechanics, it would be a different intellectual property violation (patent infringement).

Spry Fox vs LOLAPPS is also relevant as it extends copyright protection to the implementation of an idea, but ideas (like rules/mechanics) cannot, by themselves, be copyrighted. This means that there is an avenue for the original developer/company to sue even if the visual/audible aspects are different, but the overall gameplay is the same.

Also see Tetris Holding LLC vs Xio Interactive Inc. as it relates to the visual aspect of the game.

  • Note that the patent on <Momopoly is long expired, although it once existed.Note that the SpryFox case was settled out of court, and was in any case only a ruling on am motion to dismiss, not a full decision on the merits. It is not binding precedent, although it may be persuasive. But previous access under an NDA is a complicating factor in that case. This also was a case odf one video game vs another, which may increase the perceived similarity. Commented May 16, 2021 at 17:34
  • Thank you for the answer especially on the court cases. Cold you check the edit I made to my question? Commented May 16, 2021 at 18:02

Game mechanics and game rules are not protected by copyright, although the wording of game rules generally is. A game's "look and feel" can in some cases be protected by copyright, as that of Tetris was held to be. All cases that I know of with such rulings were of video games, but noting says that such a ruling could not apply to a board game.

Whether a use is "transformative" is primarily important in a fair use case, where both copying and protection is admitted by the defendant. It would not be relevant to whether the game elements constitutes protected expression or unprotected ideas.

The answer by Ron Beyer is correct that a game may be protected by a patent. However patents have much shorter durations than copyrights do, and an expired patent offers no protection at all.

A game's name, slogan, or logo might be trademarks, and protected as such. Trademarks do not expire if they are kept in use. But a similar product with a different name that is clearly not from the same source, but is an imitation is not a trademark infringement, consider OpenOffice vs Microsoft Office. The less similar the name or mark is, the harder it is to claim trademark infringement, even if the products are frankly similar. A printed statement of distinction such as "This is Game X. It should not be confused with Game Y, which comes from a different source and is not affiliated in any way with the makers of Game X" can make a difference in trademark claims, if placed where a would-be purchaser is likely to see it before purchase.

Titles and other short phrases are not protected by copyright, although they may be trademarks. Logos are generally protected by copyright unless they are very simple geometric designs, or the copyright has expired.

The name "Risk" is almost certainly a trademark, any game with a similar name might be a trademark infringement. The board/map in Risk is likely protected by copyright, unless the copyright has expired.

If it is copyright infringement to make and sell a game clone, it would still be infringement to make and give away that same clone.


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