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The video game industry is growing in New Zealand, as both creative and technological developments mean more progress locally. As a result, an increasing number of New Zealand companies are creating their own original games, and yours may be one of them. Notably, as a video game developer, you invest your time and creative energy into creating something new. Subsequently, you will be creating intellectual property (IP) when you do so. IP rights will refer to most things that could qualify as creations of the mind or original innovations. Therefore, you must take this into account when developing your games and have the appropriate protections. For some guidance, this article will go through various IP issues to consider when protecting video games in New Zealand.

Multiple Contributors and Copyright

Many people contribute to creating the various moving parts of a video game, and these people will all be creating their own original works. To create your game, you may engage people such as:

  • programmers;
  • artists;
  • animators;
  • writers;
  • composers;
  • actors; or
  • graphic designers.

Copyright is an inherent IP right that authors of an original work receive upon creation, and your video will contain all of these various original works. 

For example, your new game’s code and written words/dialogue would qualify as literary works, your soundtrack would qualify as a musical work, and your game’s visuals could qualify as artistic works. Authors of these works gain copyright protections as long as they are original, which means they did not copy them.

Therefore, in your contracts with these people, you need to make sure you clearly address:

  • whether they retain any IP rights;
  • confidentiality terms;
  • any moral rights waivers;
  • IP rights transfers; and
  • any licencing terms.

Depending on your contracts with these entities, you may gain IP rights over their work automatically. These include cases where they are your employees or you have commissioned them for a fee. Make sure to cover IP issues in their contracts.

You should clearly establish who owns any new IP these parties create before they get underway in development. Otherwise, you may encounter IP disputes in the future.

Licencing

As a video game developer, you will likely need to establish various licences to both market and distribute your games if you do not do these tasks yourself. When you licence your IP, you give another party permission to commercialise or use your IP, according to the conditions you set, which may include:

  • performance obligations;
  • regional/geographical restrictions;
  • confidentiality measures;
  • prohibited/permitted conduct; and
  • a time limit.

In exchange, the other party may pay you an ongoing royalty fee. If you engage distributors in other countries, you will need to adapt your IP protections to match the law in that country.

On top of licencing for distributors and selling your games, you will need to include an IP clause in your terms and conditions or end-user licence agreement (EULA). This clause will explain to people who buy and download your game:

  • your IP protections and powers;
  • that they have a licence to use the game but not sell or distribute it;
  • how users should engage with your IP if you allow modding;
  • whether they will invoke infringement claims if they profit from streaming your games; and
  • other licencing conditions.

Deciding What to Register for a Trade Mark

Trade marks are a kind of IP right that can protect signs representing your business or video game. You can register for trade marks through the Intellectual Property Office of New Zealand (IPONZ). You may choose to register trade marks protecting a:

  • business name;
  • game name;
  • character in your game if they are unique and distinctive;
  • slogan; or
  • special aspect about your game, such as the name of its unique magic or combat system.

You can represent your trade marks with the (™) symbol if they are unregistered or the ® symbol if you have registered them. Registered trade marks give you stronger and more easily proven IP rights.

Enforcing Your IP Rights

Piracy is a significant problem for the video game industry, so following up on IP infringement is a process that you should actively invest in. However, you need to decide in what instances you choose to follow through on any infringement claims. In some cases, you will protect your brand and stop illegal distribution. However, in others, you may alienate members of the public trying to share their enjoyment of your game with others. Therefore, it is important that you clearly establish what you want to achieve when you enforce your IP rights.

For example, streamers can raise IP issues when they stream live playthroughs of your video games, gaining a profit from their subscribed watchers. 

Key Takeaways

In video game development, you create a new and unique work that is the sum of many contributors’ efforts. Therefore, you need to make sure you clearly address IP ownership in video games and implement appropriate protections for your IP. If you would like more information or help with protecting your IP in your video game, contact LegalVision’s IP lawyers on 0800 005 570 or fill out the form on this page.

Frequently Asked Questions

What intellectual property is there in a video game?

Video games consist of the creative contributions of many different people and the works they create. Game visuals, music, code, and written content will all qualify as copyrighted work from creation.

What should I do if someone is infringing my IP rights?

If you think someone is infringing your business’ IP rights, you send them a letter informing them of your position and ask them to stop. If they do not, seek legal advice for managing this issue.

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