How do you go about finding copyright information for old computer game?
February 20, 2013 10:15 AM   Subscribe

Trying to find out copyright information on 20 year old game. (more below)

Details: Macintosh game called "Strategic Leap" 1994. Publisher: Wizardworks, Label: MacSoft.

In 1996, WizardWorks was acquired by GT Interactive Software, then by Infogames, before being rolled into Atari.

Bottom line: I'd like to look into ownership issues with an eye to taking the game to mobile platforms. I fear I'm way out of my depth on the copyright issues.

Thoughts? Thanks.

posted by gb77 to Computers & Internet (19 answers total)
Realistically I think you hire an IP lawyer.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 10:19 AM on February 20, 2013

Response by poster: @ tylerkaraszewski: Thanks. I suspect you're right, but is there any initial groundwork I can to test the feasibility and/or current status of ownership/copyright?
posted by gb77 at 10:22 AM on February 20, 2013

The Copyright Office has a searchable database of registered copyrighted works. I did not find any hits for Strategic Leap. That doesn't mean it isn't copyrighted - it almost surely is, but no one has registered it.
posted by Tanizaki at 10:40 AM on February 20, 2013

Response by poster: @ Tanizaki: Thanks much.
posted by gb77 at 10:43 AM on February 20, 2013

gb77: Are you asking if it's possible the copyright status of the game is such that you have the rights to adapt it? Because if that's your question, you don't. Someone out there is the owner of this game and without their permission you can't legally do anything with it. There isn't really anything to test, the only question is who you need to pay to get the rights to work with this IP, and that's what the lawyer will be able to tell you.
posted by Jairus at 10:43 AM on February 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

Atari is still actively coming out with content (pdf) based on WizardWorks content like Deer Hunter. But confusingly, that press release came out after this one in which GluMobile claimed to have acquired "exclusive, irrevocable worldwide license" to the brand.
posted by Jahaza at 10:46 AM on February 20, 2013

Response by poster: @ Jairus: No, I suspected I couldn't develop it without jumping through some hoops -- both legally and financially. Just trying to do some homework so I have a sense of what's in front of me.
posted by gb77 at 10:53 AM on February 20, 2013

Response by poster: @ Jahaza: Thanks for this. Interesting indeed.
posted by gb77 at 10:54 AM on February 20, 2013

and by "the brand" I mean "Deer Hunter" not WizardWorks.
posted by Jahaza at 10:58 AM on February 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

Phew, this is complicated.

Strategic Leap was licensed from Varcon (see bottom right). It heavily resembles Checkers Deluxe, and looks like it shares the same author and publisher (Bob Garner, Majestic Software).

The trail goes cold for me there, I'm afraid. I wouldn't bother searching copyright, not least because the system doesn't search well enough within documents and you find applications like "XXXX plus 200 other games." I've searched under Majestic Software and Varcon Systems and got nowhere. There probably is a simple way to look for things filed by Bob Garner himself but I couldn't find it.

Bob Garner, if the Amazon is to be believed, was a bit of an early games legend, so someone in ye olde Mac gaming circles will know how to find him. I'd suggest haunting the forums.
posted by MuffinMan at 11:50 AM on February 20, 2013

Just rip off the gameplay wholesale and change any vocabulary specific to the game. You can't copyright gameplay concepts, especially one so clearly based on a public domain game like checkers. It shouldn't be that hard to come up with a unique spin on the concept.
posted by empath at 12:26 PM on February 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: @MuffinMan: Thanks for digging into this. I too find the trail (what little I could find) pretty convoluted.
posted by gb77 at 4:56 PM on February 20, 2013

Response by poster: @empath: Interesting idea. I see your point about concept. But, to be fair the creator and copyright holders, I think I'm going to dig into it a little more and see what happens.
posted by gb77 at 4:58 PM on February 20, 2013

You might try contacting Garner Labs.
posted by derforsher at 7:44 PM on February 20, 2013

Response by poster: @derforsher: Sorry, I'm not following. What am I missing?
posted by gb77 at 8:40 PM on February 20, 2013

I did a search for "Bob Garner" on comp.sys.mac.* and according to the messages, it looks like the game might have originally been called Checkermania. It also looks like he had a Motorola email address and he moved to Japan around 1994.

Searching for Bob Garner and Motorola led to a profile on Zerply. The profile is for a Bob Garner who worked at Motorola (including Nippon Motorola around 1994) and currently works at Garner Labs (which appears to develop iPhone apps).

So it's very likely that this is the author of the game. If he doesn't have the rights to the game, he might know who does.
posted by derforsher at 11:10 PM on February 20, 2013

Note that even if you find someone who owns the rights, that doesn't mean you've found everyone who claims to own the rights.
posted by vasi at 2:11 AM on February 21, 2013

Response by poster: @derforsher:Thanks again. Great info.
posted by gb77 at 7:27 AM on February 21, 2013

Response by poster: @vasi: Thanks. Good point. I suspect that, as others have said, I would end up needing the help of an IP lawyer.
posted by gb77 at 7:29 AM on February 21, 2013

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