Tag Archives: canada video game lawyer

Real World Items in Games

When creating realistic video games, developers often desire to render real-world items digitally but neglect considering rights held in these items.  A failure to investigate rights held in real-world items is not limited to smaller studios as major developers (ex. Activision) have been sued for using real-world items in their games, such as AM General’s Hummer and certain firearms.   To assist in avoiding these issues, consider the following steps when inserting real-world items into your game:

  1.  Check to see if the item you are adding to the game is based on a real-world item.  For example, modes of transportation, firearms and luxury goods in games could all be based off a real-world item.
  2. When purchasing assets from marketplaces be sure to ensure that the asset creator has not  infringed the rights of third parties.  This has been an issue on the UE marketplace leading to an audit of most firearm asset packages.
  3. If your item is based on a real-world item, determine the rights held in that item.  For example, the design could be covered by a design patent while the name or logo could be trademarked.
  4. If there are rights held in the item be sure to secure a license from the rights holder before proceeding, otherwise you risk litigation and will be running afoul of most representations and warranties contained in publishing and platform agreements you sign.

In many cases, it’s cheaper to design your own items rather than seeking a license for real-world items, which may not be granted.  Take the GTA series and its use of cars of its own design – it’s doubtful that an automaker would license their rights to a game in which the same car is used to commit (digital) criminal offences, including murder.

If you are in doubt whether the particular item or its name is protected, be sure to contact your legal counsel before spending time integrating it into your game.

NDA Pitfalls

Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs) are a critical part of a technology company’s legal arsenal but are often relegated to a standard template without much thought.  Too often, I’ve seen NDAs sent by sophisticated companies that contain a number of pitfalls that often negate some of the protections that NDAs are relied upon for.  While there are numerous pitfalls to be watched for when drafting and reviewing NDAs, I wanted to highlight a few pitfalls that I frequently encounter that are often missed by both disclosing and receiving parties:

1.  Duration

While it may seem obvious it bears repeating: the duration of a NDA matters.  Often the NDAs I receive specify a relatively brief duration: usually between 2 and 5 years.  Problematically, after the time-period expires the protections provided by the NDA lapse and the previously confidential information can be disclosed at will.  While you may not believe that confidential information would be valuable 5 years into the future, this could be a costly assumption – image if the Coca-Cola recipe was treated the same?

NDAs should specify a perpetual duration unless you have a specific reason for limiting the duration.  Regardless, if the NDA duration has a limit you should be very careful to disclose only information that you’re comfortable becoming public information in the future.

2.  Who Can be Disclosed to

I often encounter NDAs that classify the NDA itself as confidential information that can only be disclosed with permission from the other party.  While seemingly innocuous, this treatment of the NDA can become a massive headache when it comes time to sell your company or its technology.  For example, you could be prohibited from disclosing the mere existence of the NDA to the purchaser or its legal counsel.

NDAs should permit disclosure of the NDA itself to your professional service providers, third parties proposing to engage in transactions with your company and their professional service providers.

3.  Scope of Protection

Do not neglect the scope of the NDA’s protection.  Obviously the NDA should protect information physically disclosed or spoken to the other party but there may be certain things disclosed to the other party that don’t fall within the typical scope of “information”.  For example, you may want the NDA to protect things that are visually perceived by the other party when on-site or sounds heard by the other party (this could matter if the sound of a machine could be used to determine a key design feature).

Always consider what you are disclosing under the NDA and be sure that the scope of the NDA’s protection matches the scope of disclosure as well as inadvertent, passive, disclosures that may take place.

Ultimately, the pitfalls with a NDA, as with any legal document, originate from the treatment of the NDA as a standard templated agreement.  The NDA is a powerful document that should be carefully crafted to reflect your particular business needs and to avoid the above pitfalls.

Your DMCA Registration is Expiring

The US DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) contains very useful provisions that provide a company with a safe harbour (in the U.S.) from copyright infringement committed by users of the company’s website or other online service.  For technology companies, especially those that permit users to contribute content, this safe harbour is invaluable as, without, liability for copyright infringement committed by users could be a financial disaster – imagine the liability a video upload site could incur.

To be granted the safe harbour, your company must comply with a number of legal requirements, including:

  1.  The posting of certain information concerning a notice-and-take-down process for alleged copyright infringing content, counter-notice to challenge an allegation and compliance with this process; and
  2. Registering your online service with the US copyright office and registering a DMCA agent, who acts as the point of contact for DMCA/copyright infringement claims.

Previously, DMCA agent registration did not expire.  Due to changes in the regulations governing DMCA agent registration, all current DMCA registrations expire on December 31, 2017.  Going forward, companies may register DMCA agent information electronically, each registration being valid for 3 years.  A failure to re-register a DMCA agent will result in the loss of the DMCA safe harbour, even if you previously registered and no change occurred with respect to that agent.

The benefits to the DMCA safe harbour greatly outweigh the minor costs involved in registering a DMCA agent.  Accordingly, we recommend registration to our Canadian clients, even if they do not have a presence in the U.S.  If your company has already registered, be sure to contact your legal counsel to timely begin re-registering your DMCA agent.

Startup Employment Agreements

Working with early-stage startups and game studios, we are often involved in key company decisions, such as a first hire.  Lately, with many of our clients growing their teams, we’ve been fielding questions concerning the scope of employment agreements.  Below are a few recommendations:

  1.  Consider a less strict intellectual property ownership clause.  From the outset, I must stress that the company needs to own employee work product.  However, there are different ways to define what constitutes “work product”.  The most contentious IP clauses grant the company ownership of everything created during employment, at home or at work.  These broad clauses are often at odds with the creative nature of the industry, where employees work on personal projects outside the office, which do not relate to the employer’s business.  For example, making indie games outside of working at a AAA studio.  Further, such broad clauses can drive away prospective employees.  While each company’s needs are different, a carefully crafted IP clause can ensure company ownership of work product while encouraging employee creativity in a manner that does not jeopardize such ownership.
  2. Non-compete clauses are useless (in many jurisdictions).  There seems to be an infatuation with non-compete clauses among early-stage founders, perhaps because there is a presumption that the clause will protect the company’s interests.  It won’t.  In many states (California, for example) non-compete clauses are unenforceable against employees (excluding senior management).   If you’re asking a junior dev. to sign a non-compete, it’s probably unenforceable.  If non-competes are enforceable in your jurisdiction, the clause must be carefully crafted – as a broad clause will be found unenforceable.   In my opinion, I always exclude non-compete clauses unless there is truly a reason for the clause and I believe there is a reasonable chance it will be enforceable.  In most cases, a standard confidentiality clause will provide the company sufficient protection.
  3. Law overrides employment terms.  Employees may be entitled to overtime, paid vacation etc., the terms of which are set by the laws of your jurisdiction.  As a result you, can’t force an employee to waive the rights to which they are legally entitled.  For example, an employee agreeing to be paid a flat wage when the employee is also entitled to overtime is not legal.  When hiring an employee, be sure that the employment terms are consistent with applicable laws.  When you start introducing startup employment trends (unlimited paid vacation, for example), further caution is needed to ensure that the trend reconciles with the legal requirements of your jurisdiction.  Tip:  speak with your legal counsel.

In addition to the above considerations, we recommend that you have your lawyer draft an employment agreement template that reflects your legal needs.  In doing so, you can address the above concerns and create an agreement that will serve your company needs as the team begins to grow.