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If you have a new mobile game to launch, it's essential that you protect your game's intellectual property and add the necessary legal agreements.
These early steps protect your business interests and assure that users enjoy game within the rules and limitations you set out for them in the Terms & Conditions agreement.
This article is a summary of what you should consider in terms of intellectual property and legal agreements for your mobile game.
Mobile Games & Intellectual Property
Intellectual property describes non-tangible interests such as creative productions, graphics other unique expressions.
Your mobile game may contain music, graphics, character voices, a story, and other unique characteristics that would be considered your intellectual property.
You need to not only to assure your ownership of these elements but also keep other developers from using them to your detriment.
A copyright protects artistic expression. When you register your copyright, you limit the rights of others to copy or use your creation in additional works.
This process prevents other developers from duplicating your game or making another version of your game to compete against you. If they do so anyway, you have the legal standing to stop the use because you registered it.
Before you register your copyright, you must first assure all the elements of the game belong to you or your company.
Games have the potential for several copyright registrations. Several people worked together to make your game a reality including voice actors, musicians, and graphic artists. Technically, any of these individuals can register a copyright for their part of the game and make it impossible for you to distribute the game as a whole.
You prevent this from happening by having these individuals sign their potential intellectual property rights over to you or your company.
This is easy if they are employees since that's usually part of the employment agreement--anything they create while working for you belongs to the company, not them.
If you hired independent contractors, you'll need to execute a similar agreement with the same provision.
This portion in an employment or independent contractor agreement is called an "Assignment of Intellectual Property."
If you create original works like mobile games, this assignment is an essential provision in your worker agreements. The following is an example of an Assignment of Intellectual Property taken from a generic form online:
Once you confirm your ownership of all elements in a mobile game, register your copyright.
Without copyright registration, you'll not have a legal basis to pursue damages for infringement should a former worker, independent contractor or competitor copy or develop your game or parts of it without your permission.
The process can be completed mostly online and is simple to do.
You can also register with the EU Copyright Office if you want to retain your rights across the EU market.
After registration, place notices on your website and through your mobile game letting others know of your copyright.
This gives third parties notice that you registered and own the copyright to your game and all its elements including music, characters, graphics, and even special effects.
Trademarks are distinguishing marks and names for your game. They include game titles and logos, rather than concepts, graphics, and other elements.
You want to protect your mobile game marks and names because they help you stand out in the marketplace.
You protect a trademark by filing an Intent-To-Use Form before you start distribution. It describes your title or mark and how it is unique. Once registered successfully, you can use the title or mark to market your game.
Trademarks show their status with the small "TM" near the mark. You can see this in small print on the right side of this Pokemon Go logo:
Marks do not need the "TM" to enjoy protection.
Candy Crush Saga, the popular game developed by King.com Ltd, does not display the "TM" after its Candy Crush logo:
However, it displays its trademark and copyright ownership notices at the bottom of its website. This leaves no doubt of its interests:
You can see the same notices across app stores.
These are the trademark and copyright notices for Candy Crush and Pokemon Go on the profile page of the mobile game:
And here is the copyright notice for the Pokemon GO mobile game from Nintendo on its App Store page:
Mobile Games & Legal Agreements
One thing to know about publishing platforms is that they distribute your game and a means to sell your game but are not necessarily looking out for your business interests.
There are three legal agreements to consider:
However, it's nearly impossible to enforce your legal interests without them.
In this agreement, you'll also describe how you collect the data and if you disclose it to any third parties.
Privacy Policies for mobile games are not much different from other apps.
You'll list the information you collect through your mobile game, how you collect it, and indicate that it will not be transmitted without permission.
It's also possible that your game will collect and share collected data to address technical difficulties.
When Pokemon GO is downloaded from the App Store, the user can see it on the initial screen:
Terms & Conditions for Mobile Games Apps
Terms & Conditions contain any payment requirements, community standards, and restricted uses. It can also include liability disclaimers and other useful clauses specific to your game.
While it's not an absolute protection, like copyright or trademark registration, the Terms & Conditions addresses intellectual property interests, too. Normally this is done through a license to use and play the game.
Niantic develops an augmented reality game called Ingress. In a section called "Right in App," its Terms & Conditions agreement explains to users that they may copy, download, and use Ingress. However, they cannot modify it, reverse-engineer it or distribute it:
When you include rules of conduct in your legal agreement, it gives your business grounds to terminate an account if a user harasses another or even engages in illegal activity.
However, don't assume that if you have a single-player game with little or no interaction between users you don't need to list rules of conduct.
Two Dots is a puzzle game available on the App Store and Google Play. In its Terms & Conditions agreement, it offers an extensive rules of conduct that includes primarily intellectual property violations:
EULA for Mobile Games Apps
The End-User License Agreement (EULA) applies when a user downloads, installs, and uses your game.
The EULA agreement is most relevant for games that require more resources on the user's end rather than requiring constant Internet connection. Rather than access your game through a cloud server, a user makes a copy of the game for their own use.
This agreement contains similar content to a Terms & Conditions agreement but it is much more narrow:
- Terms & Conditions agreements contain a right to use the app but also payment terms, rules of conduct, and licensing terms.
- EULA focuses mainly on intellectual property rather than behavior.
If you distribute your mobile game through Apple Apple Store, you have the benefit of a default EULA. It's a basic and broad agreement which offers your business some protection.
This is the general license granted in that agreement:
However, if you require specific assurances, like defined uses of the game, use restrictions, termination of accounts, and liability limitations, you must investigate creating your own EULA.
Microsoft Office 365 distributes apps through Apple, but created its own EULA. These are the specific provisions it prefers under "Scope of License."
When you use an Android platform like Google Play Store or Amazon Appstore, you will not have a default EULA available.
After reviewing the differences between Terms & Conditions and EULA for your mobile game, you may decide you do not require a EULA or if you distribute through Apple, that Apple's default EULA is adequate.
In many cases, a Terms & Conditions agreement with defined licensing provisions works well for most developers of mobile games.