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Suppose I write a program for playing a game very similar to a TV game show, and publish my program. Would I be infringing the TV show's copyright if I didn't include any graphics or sound effects from the show?

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  • Graphics and sound effects are not the only copyrightable elements. If you don't violate copyright, but if you name your game similar to a trademarked name (e.g. who wants to be a millionaire), that is a trademark issue.
    – Brandin
    Jun 14, 2022 at 14:32
  • What elements are copyrightable? No, I wouldn't use a similar name, or even mention the show in the documentation.
    – Someone
    Jun 14, 2022 at 14:43
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    Anything that would be considered an original creative work, would be automatically a copyrighted protected element. See: copyright.gov/help/faq/faq-protect.html The general idea or abstract rules of a game (e.g. guess missing letters to spell a word, answer a multiple choice question, etc.) would not be protected, but the way it is expressed might be. For example, copying the rulebook from a chess game that you bought is not OK, but making your own chess game to exactly follow those rules, and explaining the rules in your own original text, would be fine.
    – Brandin
    Jun 14, 2022 at 15:01
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    There are various similar questions on gamedev SE, example. You could search there.
    – Stuart F
    Oct 25, 2022 at 13:12
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    What is "Legal Jeopardy"? Oct 27, 2022 at 12:58

1 Answer 1

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Game mechanics are generally not subject to copyright.

What is protected, though are:

  • Names and logos, as registered or unregistered trademarks.
  • The individual questions, art assets, title song, moderator monologues etc. by copyright law.
  • The overall visual design could be subject to design patents.
  • The text of the game manual is protected by copyright law, but not its meaning. Which means you can express the game rules in a different way.

Although there were a couple landmark cases in the world of video games where courts ruled that although a game did not literally copy any of the game assets, their reimagining of the game as a whole was so close to the original that it was still copyright infringement. See:

But these cases were all within the same medium. What does that mean for transfering a game from one medium (TV show) to another (video games)? Well, if Sony Pictures Television does decide to take legal actions against you, would you have the money to pay the legal fees to find out?

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  • No, I wouldn't have money to pay legal fees. Could they still sue me even if I complied with a cease and desist notice?
    – Someone
    Oct 25, 2022 at 14:03
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    @Someone The legal implications of a C&D notice would be a topic for another question.
    – Philipp
    Oct 25, 2022 at 14:08
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    The big question in this case is not literal infringement by copying, but violation of the right to make derivative works.
    – ohwilleke
    Oct 25, 2022 at 21:31

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