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Legal issues of writing a book about a video game?
October 14, 2011 12:26 PM   Subscribe

What legal issues might I run into when writing an instructional guide book for a video game?

I'm interested in writing a tutorial/manual/instruction manual/guide book for a relatively popular video game. I'd like to publish the book in electronic and (eventually) physical form, and charge a nominal fee for it.

Am I allowed to use trademarked terms, such as the name of the game, characters, etc.? Am I allowed to use screenshots of the game? For an enhanced ebook, what about videos? I know that fair use can generally cover works created for educational purposes, but does that mean I can't charge for it?

Also, to throw another monkey wrench into the works, the developer of the game is not in the US, so are there special international laws that apply here?

(Yes, I know you are not my lawyer.)
posted by joshrholloway to Law & Government (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
Am I allowed to use trademarked terms, such as the name of the game, characters, etc.?

Yes. Those things exist and you are commenting upon them. The Matterhorn ride exists. This guide will tell you the best time to ride it. They don't need to pay Disney for that. Game walkthroughs do this all the time.

Am I allowed to use screenshots of the game?

No. Not if you want to charge money for it, and not if you don't have some kind of PR relationship with the publisher, like these guys. That's where you would get into hot water. The game itself is copyrightable. And since you can't actually reach into the world and make your own photograph, you're kinda screwed.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 12:35 PM on October 14, 2011


You might want to poke around this site. Maybe contact a few of the people who wrote in-depth guides, I'm sure they've dealt with similar issues.
posted by 3FLryan at 12:36 PM on October 14, 2011


I'm concerned about your understanding of fair use. You are concerned not with educational but with editorial fair use. Commercial or non-commercial use is not the water line people think it is.

Anyway, the game you are looking to write about probably has a trademark use statement; here's the one for Second Life, as well as a very explicit brand use reference guide.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:53 PM on October 14, 2011


There's two issues here: can you write an instructional book, and can you charge for it?

The answer to the first is a fairly clear yes. The answer to the second is "maybe, it depends, and yes you might get sued or taken down."

You may find this instructive: Brian Kopp v. Blizzard. Basically, the guy wrote a levelling guide for World of Warcraft and sold it on eBay for $15 a pop. Blizzard notified eBay to take down his auctions by invoking the DMCA. He made new usernames and kept going, Blizzard kept getting them taken down. Then he got a free lawyer from Public Citizen and filed counternotice, at which point they settled out of court and Kopp became free to sell his guides unimpeded.

The DMCA is a US law, so I don't know what international copyright laws might apply.
posted by Errant at 1:00 PM on October 14, 2011


The game itself is copyrightable. And since you can't actually reach into the world and make your own photograph, you're kinda screwed.

Well... sorta. Screenshots are actually a pretty good candidate for fair use.

Here's how this is probably going to go down.

1) You write and publish your book.

2) The game publisher does send you a nastygram telling you take it down. They may even send a takedown notice to the epub distributor, who will probably comply.

3) You either get legal help in writing a counter-notice, or you leave it be.

The alternate to step 3 is that the company sues you into next Tuesday in addition to just sending the notice. They may have an absolutely terrible legal case, but that won't stop 'em from doing it, and you'll need a lawyer to work that out.
posted by valkyryn at 1:03 PM on October 14, 2011


Good stuff above, and the EFF guide to fair use is worth looking at re: your screen captures.

Here's the thing about fair use, though - it's not some bright line, so you can be completely legally in the right and they can still be a pain in your ass. DMCA stuff makes some if it even harder since takedown notices, maddeningly, have this cooling off period where you simply have to suffer a set time before you can contest them.

So you need to decide how high your capacity for risk/pain is. I personally am a crank on the issue and would likely be willing to let my fair use flag fly. Maybe you wouldn't.
posted by phearlez at 1:44 PM on October 14, 2011


Well... sorta. Screenshots are actually a pretty good candidate for fair use.

OTOH, a lot of games try to get around that with blanket language about screenshots in the EULA. (And EULAs may be bullshit, but bullshit still muddies waters.)
posted by -harlequin- at 5:18 PM on October 14, 2011


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