The Intellectual Video Game

Video games are fun and exciting to play, but are often overlooked as an intellectual activity. Pong was one of the earliest video games released in 1972 by Atari, but since then the video game industry has grown enormously.

According to the IBISWorld Industry report, the global video game market is set to expand from $58.7 billion in 2011 to $83.0 billion in 2016, growing at an annual rate of 7.2%.

There is no denying that the video games are a big business, that cost millions to develop and reaps billions in sales. The developer’s Rockstar North budget for the game Grand Theft Auto V without the marketing costs exceeded $137 million, while the game was a blockbuster hit which achieved over $800 million in retail sales during its first 24 hours on sale, and reached over $1 billion within three days.

What is absolutely fascinating about this game is that it features a virtual world with 25 radio stations, that play 240 licensed songs. This means that the developer Rockstar had to negotiate copyright license for each of the songs on the game. Further, this time Rockstar also developed its own original score, the Rolling Stone magazine did a brilliant report on the music within the Grand Theft Auto V game.

It’s not the first time that the game in set in a virtual mock city of Los Angeles, previously Rockstar called it San Andreas.

San Andreas game is very interesting from an intellectual property rights (IPR) perspective, because it was embroiled in two peculiar lawsuit over IPR infringements. First, an owner of ‘Playpen’ Gentlemen’s Club in Los Angeles, claimed that the game’s strip club ‘The Pig Pen’ violated club’s trademarks. Rockstar successfully defended against the allegations. Then the second lawsuit was even more surreal, a backup singer from a rap band Cypress Hill, Michael Washington, sued Rockstar game, over the likeness of the main character ‘CJ’ to himself. This was again successfully defeated, but it’s up to you to decide if the singer behind songs ‘Insane in the membrane’, ‘Rock Superstar’ and ‘Illusions’ was just paranoid, or unhappy that the game licensed only one of their song ‘How I Could Just Kill a Man’.

Nintendo’s Super Mario has intellectual property rights issues of its own. One of the most successful franchises in the video games history, first released in 1983, recently got involved in a copyright dispute over one of its earliest games, the 1985 Super Mario Bros version.

College student Josh Goldberg developed ‘Super Mario Brothers’ on the latest web standards. The game reproduced graphics, sounds and gameplay of the original Nintendo version and allowed the player to play through all the 32 original levels. Josh’s version went even further by allowing to randomly generate numerous levels, and even create your own Super Mario levels with the site’s level editor. Nintendo objected to the website, because of copyright infringements over the look, sound and the gameplay mechanics. Nintendo said in an e-mailed statement thats it “respects the intellectual property rights of other companies, and in turn expects others to respect ours as well”. This time Super Mario’s magic mushroom habit didn’t deceive him in objecting and the IPR law is on Mario’s side.

Last but not least, Zynga was fighting out against its nemesis Vostu in Brazil, over four games, most notably CityVille. The São Paulo trial court was quick to act, by demanding a shutdown of Vostu games in its first brief. The parties settled before the panel of three judges had time to decide. A settlement was reached by Vostu paying an undisclosed sum and agreeing to make changes to the games.

Intellectual property rights, predominantly copyright for video games is an interesting and still developing subject. On July 29th, World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) released a multi-national study, ‘The Legal Status of Video Games: Comparative Analysis in National Approaches‘ which provides an insight into the legal protection for copyright in video games.

Video games are comprised of multiple copyrighted works, as was earlier showcased in a Super Mario Bros case. WIPO found that “the current landscape of the legal protection of video games appears extremely complex, composed by multiple copyrighted works which deserve independent legal protection” there are two aspects which form the bases for video games: audiovisual, including pictures, video recordings and sounds; and software, specifically how the audiovisual is technically managed and how users interact with elements of the game.

The study also identified areas that might become problematic in the future from the intellectual property rights perspective. This will come as a good news to all gamers who want to become televised superstars. The study stated that it was “not impossible” to imagine video game competitions broadcasted on television “as sporting events are today,” stressing the need for lawmakers to address the issue of rights for television networks and Internet websites. Therefore, happy intellectual gaming to you all!

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