Before some people get all worked up, the question is being asked in the context of modding.


Video game piracy is the unauthorized copying and distributing of video game software, and is a form of copyright infringement.

Okay, so at least in one (and probably the major and common one) case it the sharing is illegal due to copyright law rules. But how exactly are game files protected and what exactly is protected?


This standard treats the whole game as a singular component but does not define what would be covered by such a protection and what would be excluded. WIPO had recognized the complexity inherent in copyrighting video games, saying: "Although Article 2 of the Berne Convention provides a solid basis for eligibility for protection of video games by copyright, they are in fact complex works of authorship, potentially composed of multiple copyrighted works." WIPO has also stated in one of its reports that "there is no clear classification of video games and their protection will vary depending on each particular game and the elements that are part of it. In this sense, video games can be treated as computer programs and, thus, are classified as works of authorship; in that case, the source code for a video game is classified as a literary work. If pictorial or graphic authorship predominates, a video game may be classified as a visual arts work. Similarly, if motion picture or audiovisual authorship predominates, a video game may be classified as a motion picture/audiovisual work."

I understand that things differ between countries, let us stay in International/USA space. So, according to this standard videogame medium considered a whole piece and even a small portion of that piece, even if it makes not sense outside of the whole or bears no value (copyrightable value i.e. creative and original content) is protected?

Let's take, for example, a typical videogame that is made on a generic-purpose videogame engine such as Unreal Engine 4 or Unity3D Engine. When the game is packaged as a final product it contains a lot of stuff that is fairly easy to determine as protected and copyrighted work: audio assets (music, sound effects), graphical assets (textures, sprites, etc), other visual assets (3D models aka meshes, protected design-wise) and so on. This packaged game is our videogame medium. But along with this game, a bunch of meta-data is packaged as well. This metadata has no possible copyrightable value by definition (and can be actually considered as a "fact" or "factual data") and it does not even belong to the IP holder/wonder but rather, in some way, to the creators of the tools itself (Unreal Engine, for example). Let say all this data is in one single file that is being shared - how would copyright law protect against this kind of sharing?

For the context, this is somewhat follow-up to Can digital signature/Hash sequence be copyrighted?

  • 3
    What exactly do you mean by metadata? You need to provide some examples of what metadata you are talking about before an answer can be given.
    – Joe W
    Commented Jul 11, 2021 at 14:06
  • See link at the bottom, it just bunch of hashes of the game files packaged into one container. They contain no actual data (no pictures or text or anything of sort) but just has that describes meta data of this file. For example, this is MD5 hash of your sentence: caccbb62e2d3ce0a2298bd97e6a0ecbc
    – KreonZZ
    Commented Jul 11, 2021 at 14:09
  • Please put it in the question what you are asking and don't make people follow links to figure out your question. Each question you ask should be self contained and not depend on links which may break in the future.
    – Joe W
    Commented Jul 11, 2021 at 14:14
  • 1
    @KreonZZ And what does that do? Is this about bypassing DRM? Commented Jul 11, 2021 at 14:34
  • 2
    Hang on. Is this just another version of the "technically data is 1s and 0s so how can this image be illegal"? Commented Jul 11, 2021 at 14:42

2 Answers 2


The general rule under law is that copyright is infringed when a copyrighted work, or any part of it, is copied or distributed without permission, or a new derivative work based on the copyrighted work is created or distributed without permission. There are several exceptions to this. There is, for example, a specific right to create a backup of a computer program to which one has lawful access.

The best known and widest exception to copyright in US law is "fair use". What use is a fair use is a highly fact-driven question: It cannot be answered in general, except by quoting the statutory provisions. There are no exact rules for what is and is not fair use that apply in all cases. There have been several detailed discussions of on this site, including https://law.stackexchange.com/a/66608/17500 not long ago. Note that fair use is a strictly US concept, and does not apply under any other country's law. Other countries have their own exceptions to copyright, which will cover some of the same cases as fair use, but not all of them, and will get to results by different routes.

If hashes were distributed separately, to confirm the authenticity of a program, they would probably not be protected by copyright for lack of originality. Under US law, and particularly the Feist Publications, Inc., v. Rural Telephone Service Co., 499 U.S. 340 (1991) case there must be a "minimal degree" of creativity for something to be protected by copyright.

The decision said:

Many compilations consist of nothing but raw data—i.e. wholly factual information not accompanied by any original expression. On what basis may one claim a copyright upon such work? Common sense tells us that 100 uncopyrightable facts do not magically change their status when gathered together in one place. ... The key to resolving the tension lies in understanding why facts are not copyrightable: The sine qua non of copyright is originality.

Since a hash or other digital signature can be computed automatically from the document to be signed (indeed that is its value), it is not creative and copying a hash alone would not be an infringement.

Whether this would be true of other metadata depends on the exact nature of that data, and the degree of creativity that it represents. Without specific facts no judgement can be made, and making that kind of very specific judgement might be beyond the scope of this site.

A comment said:

Just because a work is copyrighted, doesn't mean every part of that work is copyrighted, ...

I would put it that every part of a work is copyrighted, but some copying does not amount to infringement. Extracting facts and rewording them so that none of the expression is copied is not infringement. Extracting a completely non-creative part of a work and reproducing it is not infringement. Copying a limited amount for use in a review or commentary is often fair use, and fair use is not infringement.

Video Games

There is nothing in US law specific to video games. There is little that is specific to computer software, although the right to make a backup copy is protected. A good deal of case law has focused on the issue of temporary copies made while running a program, which does not seem relevant to this question. Other cases have focused on the protectability of user interfaces, and of APIs, also not relevant here.

whether a work is packaged as a single file or as many related files should not affect its copyright protection. (I know of no case on that specific issue.) Whether copying a part of acomputer file is infringement or not would depend on the purpose of the copying, and on the effect or potential effect on the copyright holder, and perhaps on other factors.

Copying a non-creative hash, as a way of detecting whether a file is modified or not, does not seem likely to be infringement, unless the holder could show harm, but no one knows for sure how a court would rule in such a case.

Copyright does not protect facts, but it does protect the way in which facts are expressed, unless there is only one or a few such ways available to express such a fact. Copyright also may protect the selection and arrangement of facts, except where the arrangement is "obvious". Placing facts in alphabetical order (as in a phone book) or chronological order (as in a timeline) has been held to be obvious and not protected.

International Standards

The question and a comment ask about international standards for copyright. In effect there are none. The only significant international agreement on copyright is the Berne Copyright Convention. That is a treaty to which almost every nation belongs, thus rendering the Universal Copyright Convention and other international copyright agreements obsolete. But the Berne Convention leaves details to national copyright laws. The making or authorizing of copies, and the authorizing of derivative works are part of copyright in every Bern-compliant country. Berne provides for exceptions to copyright, but leaves the details to national law.

Moreover, there is no intentional court in which copyright claims can be made. Anyone wishing to sue for copyright infringement must do so in the courts of some specific country, and so all the case law which defines details on what is and is not infringement is national, not international.

It should be noted that a copyright holder may sue in any country where infringing actions have occurred. When an allegedly infringing work is distributed over the web, that often means that a plaintiff may sue in almost any country, although enforcement will be limited if the defendant has no presence and no assets in the chosen country. Thus the copyright laws of multiple countries may be relevant to a particular case.

  • if you have time, could you try to rework the answer on the quote part from the wiki about the international standards, in particular, how videogame medium is protected under copyright? Is EVERY file in the media that is distributed as videogame protected? If not, what are GENERIC cases when it is not? My question tried to allude at possible generic case, but I failed to convey it. From the linked answers : Just because a work is copyrighted, doesn't mean every part of that work is copyrighted, and factual information conveyed by the work is a part which is not subject to copyright.
    – KreonZZ
    Commented Jul 11, 2021 at 14:58
  • Note that while Fair Use is a US concept, "Fair Dealing" is used in many other countries and the terms are often used interchangeably. Commented Jul 11, 2021 at 15:01
  • @Studoku the terms are not used interchangeably by anyone knowledgeable. The scope of fair dealing is more specific and more limited, and even when the two concepts get to the same result they do so by different methods of analysis. Nor is "fair dealing" the same in all countries that use the concept. Commented Jul 11, 2021 at 15:07
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    @KreonZZ I will add to the answer above in the next few hours. Commented Jul 11, 2021 at 15:08

The practical terms stopping it being copied are that it's entirely pointless to do so. At least I assume it is- you've yet to demonstrate any reason to.

I get the impression that this is about violating DRM, or some other shenanigans with the game software. These are not covered by copyright law but are likely to be against the TOS (which is why you're so reluctant to state what they are).


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