Ownership, Intellectual Property and Modding

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Ownership, Intellectual Property and Modding

Postby Zaha on Sat Dec 10, 2011 2:12 pm

Unfortunately, due to the nature of modding, many people are under misconceptions about how ownership and control work in a mod. This thread exists to clarify the issues of ownership and how they relate to mod creation.

Intellectual Property
Intellectual Property specifically relates to the area of idea creation and invention, and covers issues of copyright and trademarking. With regard to Dawn of War and DoW mods, it breaks down like this:

Warhammer 40k and all races, characters and creatures therein are the Intellectual Property of Games Workshop. Games Workshop owns the rights to all of these previously mentioned things, and maintains exclusive control over who may and may not use and publish works relating to these.

As a mod team, we have to acknowledge this overarching ownership of the 40k universe. This is why in our readme file (and generally on our sites), we include the following:

40K, GW, Games Workshop, Tyranids, Hive Fleet Behemoth, Hive Fleet Kraken, Hive Fleet Leviathan, and any Tyranid unit names are all either ®,™ and/or © Games Workshop Ltd. Used without permission.


We have not been granted permission by Games Workshop to use their intellectual property. We do so under the implicit understanding that if they requested us to stop, we would probably be legally obliged to do so.

Likewise, Dawn of War and the game engine it runs on are the Intellectual Property of THQ and Relic Entertainment. We cannot claim ownership of these either, for the same reason.

How This Relates To Ownership Generally
A good example of how this relates to ownership with smaller creations within those Intellectual Properties can be demonstrated by Hive Fleet Moloch. Those of you who have read our readme file would also remember this part:

Hive Fleet Moloch is the property of Marco Schulze (http://www.hivefleetmoloch.de/), whom we all admire and adore (and kindly
gave us permission to use his fleet colours).


While Tyranids are the IP of Games Workshop, the particular colourscheme and customised style of Hive Fleet Moloch is the creation of Marco Schulze. By convention, he retains the rights to the name Hive Fleet Moloch, the Moloch colour scheme, and any particular customised models he's created for that Hive Fleet.

How This Relates To Ownership In Mods
When it comes to a mod, similarly, there are issues of ownership relating to individual members of the mod team. Our models for example, while based on the IP of Games Workshop, are the individual property of their creators and they have controlling interest in how those models are used. While the models are not their Intellectual Property (they did not invent the idea for them), they are individually the possessions and creations of those people and they retain the rights to how those models are used.

Tyranid Mod-unique code however (for example, the Influence mechanic and new construction system that will be in 0.5b2) is technically the Intellectual Property of the coder who created them and the designer who came up with the idea, as they are entirely new creations and innovations on the Dawn of War engine. The level to which this can be legally maintained varies, as does the level to which we might want to enforce this property (we would not, for example, come down on someone who tried to copy our build method - but if Relic released Dawn of War 3 with Tyranids working almost exactly the same as we are trying to make them in our mod, we would certainly have grounds upon which to take action if they did not credit us as inspiration), but generally this is how the two statuses differ within a mod.

How This Relates To You
A lot of individuals have reported to us the belief that because the Tyranid Mod Team release the Tyranid Mod to the public, the public should have more say in the Tyranid Mod than the Tyranid Mod Team itself. This is incorrect. In fact, it's a lot like saying that you should own Google because Google make its search engine freely available to the public.

In particular, this is why we do not allow the Tyranid Mod to be repackaged (that is, let other mod teams copy our files into their own mod and then make their modified version of our mod publicly available for download) and instead demand that they create mod dependencies (requiring users to download our mod as well) if they wish to use our work. Some of our art belongs to individuals who are no longer part of the Tyranid Mod Team, and while they have given their consent for their properties to be used in our mod, they have not necessarily given consent for it to be used in other people's mods.

Likewise, the Tyranid Mod Team maintain absolute authority over the direction of the Tyranid Mod. There is no legal right under which you can demand us to do anything with our mod, because the Tyranid Mod Team own the mod outright as our creation. Which is not to say we don't like people making suggestions (please do!), it's just that we are the final authority on what is done with our work.

Summary
Contrary to popular belief, game mods do not fall outside the regions of copyright, Intellectual Property or legal ownership. It's certainly murkier than when a game or setting is created totally from scratch, but there are issues of ownership that need to be observed. Every mod team has the right to maintain this kind of controlling interest over their work, and people need to be aware that these issues are at play and that there is a certain level of respect for other people's work that needs to be maintained.
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