What is the deal with Mojang's IP?
September 24, 2021 3:42 AM   Subscribe

There are a great many "unofficial Minecraft" series being published, many of them self-published on KDP or from small presses, but others from well-known publishers (e.g. HarperCollins, also Feiwel & Friends [a MacMillan imprint]). But I'm not seeing anything in the official Branding guidelines saying that this is okay; to the contrary, it looks like--as of 2015, at least--they've clearly been saying "don't do this." Am I just misreading the document?

As the various book series will attest, "Unofficial Minecraft" works are definitely a thing, but I can't read Mojang's branding guidelines as saying anything except "don't do this" (e.g. under "don't": "try to make money from anything we've made"). Were their branding guidelines more lax/forgiving at some point and, if so, are various authors "grandfathered in" so to speak, or is everyone just collectively deciding to ignore the guidelines and take their chances? I'm willing to believe that a self-published author on KDP might just go skipping into a minefield, but I doubt that two of the Big Five would have decided to invite a losing lawsuit if the situation is as cut and dried as it looks to me. So now I feel like I'm probably missing something.

Obligatory YANAL, YANML, YANAIPL, etc.
posted by johnofjack to Media & Arts (5 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
IP law is tricky. I know nothing specifically about this Minecraft issue, but in the world of knitting patterns, one of the magazine publishers was able to get away with putting out an Unofficial Harry Potter Knits yearly mag a few times. The patterns were all "inspired by" and never mentioned specific character names or things specific to HP worldbuilding. There was plenty of generic fantasy left to build on.

Mojang/Microsoft can't trademark pixelated/voxelated graphics, but I bet these Unofficial works are careful to include Zombies and Skeletons but not Creepers or Endermen. It's a dance, but as long as you carefully file off all the serial numbers that are actually new product, you can be left with enough to still feel like the world you're aping but is generic enough to legally pass. (It doesn't hurt that Minecraft's main character is simply named "Steve." Can't copyright or trademark or protect that in any way, really.)
posted by rikschell at 5:22 AM on September 24, 2021 [1 favorite]


If you look under "Commercial Things", they are explicitly OK with people using "Minecraft" in the secondary title of commercial works. The only book in your Amazon search that seemed to break this rule was this one.

It's also worth noting that trademark fair use is a thing. Otherwise you could, like, take down negative reviews of your brand for trademark violation. I think the "Unofficial Minecraft Lab" example above probably has a decent case for fair use, and since it also seems like it probably contributes to rather than detracts from the brand, why pay the legal fees to fight it out?
posted by goingonit at 6:58 AM on September 24, 2021


Best answer: Oh and also Mojang has a specific commercialization TOS that has a section dedicated to books.

They are actually being extremely lenient here! They certainly don't have to let people use Minecraft screenshots/footage in commercial works (which they explicitly do).
posted by goingonit at 7:02 AM on September 24, 2021


Theoretical laws and the branding guidelines are only sort of relevant here. Ultimately this breaks down to a simple cost/benefit analysis. Will the publishers make more money from the unofficial Minecraft stuff than they would lose in lawsuits? The answer here is definitely yes, both because unofficial Minecraft stuff sells really well, AND Mojang has a reputation of being less litigious than other companies. This is probably related to various disputes while they were independent, and manifests in their existing branding guidelines.

Most of these series got started before Microsoft owned Mojang, and it seems from the outside like things haven't changed much because of the values of the Mojang subunit. But if Microsoft started sending out a bunch of cease and desist letters for this, things would probably change. As a good counter example, "unofficial Mario" books were a thing in the 90s, but now only Chinese companies would try that because Nintendo is very litigious in its main markets.
posted by JZig at 10:19 AM on September 24, 2021


Response by poster: I think goingonit is right; what I was missing was that commercialization TOS. (And yes, they do seem to be much more permissive than most rights-holders. I couldn't imagine, say, DC or Pixar or Nickelodeon being this lenient with their IP).
posted by johnofjack at 7:15 PM on September 24, 2021


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