Startup and video game law, from a Canadian and U.S. perspective
Does your Game need a ‘Fan-Content Policy?’
For most businesses, infringement of copyright is going to result in lost profits. But what about businesses where infringement of their IP could lead to more engagement and sales?
The video game industry has this issue. Developers and publishers want to benefit from the free marketing that comes with their users creating and sharing content of their Game, but they don’t necessarily want to permit users to do whatever they want with their intellectual property.
Meanwhile, streamers, video producers, let’s players, modders and other forms of video game content creators are having an increasingly difficult time navigating the complexities of copyright law in understanding what they are and are not allowed to do with Game developers IP when making their own content.
The Copyright Acts in both the US and Canada have not been updated to address this issue, thus creating a legal grey zone that results in game creators themselves having to address how users can use their IP in their own content policies.
What is a Fan-Content Policy?
Seemingly more Game companies are opting to have separate Fan-Content Policies so they can be displayed clearly and concisely to players. Common everyday language is also best to use in Content Policies to convey the information contained in a simple and easy to understand way with limited legalese.
Ultimately, Fan-Content Policies seek to address this legal grey area as best one can outside the context of statutory copyright protections, often detailing how a user can use the Game’s IP to create their own content, and the other rules and requirements surrounding its use.
Common Terms in Fan-Content Policies
Some terms that are often included in Fan-Content Policies include:
- General Rules: what you can and cannot do with the Game and its IP while creating your own content.
- Authorized Uses: detailing what uses are permitted or excluded. Like the General Rules, but this language is often much more legal and akin to a license grant. Often Commercial Uses are not accepted (but monetization via advertisements so long as videos follow the policy may be carved out and approved).
- Mods: whether modifications to the Game are permitted, and if so, how they are permitted and under what contexts (for example, overwhelmingly often they state Mods can never be commercialized or sold).
- Other Agreements: how the Fan-Content Policy works in tandem with other agreements the user is bound to, such as Terms of Service, Privacy Policies and End-User License Agreements.
- Company Property: how the User can use Company property outside just the Game, such as trademark or tradenames.
- Credit: how a User must credit the Game, Developer and/or Publisher in the making of their Game content
- Jurisdiction: what country’s laws govern the policy. Could be the jurisdiction of the user or another specified country.
- DMCA Takedowns: how the policy addresses takedowns on third-party platforms via DMCA.
- Enforcement of Rights: arguably the most influential provision, that states that despite the rules and regulations of the policy, the IP holders ultimately reserve the right to take legal action for misuse of IP as determined by the IP owner in its absolute discretion.
At the End of the Day, Enforcement of Rights Still Remains
In a way, the Enforcement of Rights provision could be the only provision of significant weight in the whole policy, as it signifies and clarifies that these Fan-Content Policies essentially operate in a copyright law legal vacuum and the decision to either withdraw or enforce certain rights as it relates to the intellectual property will always remain with the IP owner. Despite the rules and permission detailed within the policy, the IP owner still has all the power in the relationship regardless of whether content creators were following the rules of the policy or not.
Whatever proposed licensed granted by any policy as it relates to the use of the Game is always going to be (and should be) non-exclusive and revokable by the developer/publisher at any time. Selective enforcement of intellectual property can occur at any time, as is permitted by relevant copyright statutory provisions.
In summary, Fan-Content Policies seek to inform users on how they are permitted to use the Game and surrounding intellectual property for their own content creation. A well-drafted Content Policy seeks to foster a symbiotic relationship between game creators and content creators to create a healthy and more transparent community relationship.
However, developers and content creators alike should still remember that the rights owner still has ultimate power to revoke any permissions granted in a Content Policy unless otherwise stated.
For more information on Fan-Content Policies, or to get your own drafted, feel free to reach out to Voyer Law.