I want to build an electronic version of an existing popular board game that will use the same game mechanic and follow similar rules, but without requiring a physical board to play or any of the gaming figurines.
I followed the Hasbro vs. Scrabulous debacle and I would like to avoid a lawsuit, even though if my version were to be successful, it would be in their best interests to acquire it. That is not my aim, but plenty of fans will appreciate an online version which the publisher is very unlikely to pursue.
What are the legal implications of blatantly using a game's rules and building an electronic version? There are a myriad of "Monopoly" copies. Do they pay licensing fees?
What is considered fair-use in terms of the registered trademark? Am I allowed to use the game's name in any way as long as I declare it is an unofficial version?
To avoid potential legal repercussions, do I need to "nudge" any rules or gaming terms? Scrabulous nudged their rules a bit and relaunched as Wordscraper. Is the name the biggest issue?
Is there any just cause for prosecution if I own a domain name with the game's title in it?
I would love to build and play an online version of this game with my friends and it is highly unlikely that the game's publisher will even think of developing an online version, not within the next ten years.
What are the legal pitfalls when building a digital version of a fun, popular board game and publishing it online?
Update: I want to make it clear that I do not intend to willfully infringe on or squat on the publisher's trademarks or property. I am asking this question specifically to steer clear of any unfair use or infringement.
My IP Research
From what I've read on intellectual property (I'm no IP lawyer, so correct me where I'm wrong):
Game mechanics cannot be copyrighted any more than an idea or a mechanism, but...
You can patent a mechanism, which is sometimes done for games (read WotC card tapping).
Particular pieces of text and images can be copyrighted.
Trademarks can prevent similar usage for similar purposes, which was definitely an infringement for Scrabulous and in this case a domain name containing terms similar to a trademark would be an infringement.
So I want to...
...build a new game on a different (online) medium that is based on an existing game mechanic. A jarringly similar clone of the board game in question is currently published under a different brand with:
- an identical core game mechanic,
- the same packaged items,
- a different board with changed artwork
- slightly altered rules.
Hey now, but...
If that's legal, then surely a web application following the same game mechanic would not infringe as long as there are no utility patents in place on mechanisms (whether enforceable for software is disputable) and no trademarks are infringed?
So now I have a (draft) list of things not to do.
- Don't use any names (including domains) similar to existing trademarks.
- Don't copy any art or text without permission.
- Don't misrepresent any affiliaton.
- Alter rules where possible when implementing an existing game mechanic.