Game FAQs and Copyright

My housemate has gotten around to playing Kingdom Hearts, and naturally he’s been reading the FAQ to play through it. (It’s the only way he plays.) I’ve used FAQs from GameFAQs before, and being the copyright nerd that I am I always read the copyright notices. They almost always contain erroneous information, and part of the reason appears to be that the most popular copyright notices are taken from the same sources. Here are some examples of how these FAQ copyright notices are wrong or, well, kind of silly.

-“No section of the guide can be used without permission.”
Well, that’s not entirely correct, but since this term is pretty common even with attorney-authored terms it’s not surprising. There are certainly legal uses of copyright material that don’t require the author’s permission, and in fact may be contrary to the author’s wishes. That concept applies to pretty much everywhere you see “all rights reserved” and similar statements, which is why those statements tend to be misleading.
-“This includes, but is not limited to posting on your website, making links to my guide, including parts of my guide in your own, or making reference to any material contained within.”
These terms betray some pretty fundamental misunderstandings of copyright in a couple of respects. As I just mentioned, some uses may fall under copyright exemptions. More importantly, copyright law usually doesn’t cover linking. Linking is almost always legal. There are some additional complications here involving the linking to materials that circumvent copyright protection, but as generally attemptiong to disallow linking through terms like this doesn’t actually have a legal basis, and is kind of silly. And “making reference to any material contained within…” doesn’t violate any kind of copyright law whatsover. I’m referencing things found within. I’m not doing anything illegal.

Mind you, earlier versions of this notice are worse.
-“By reading this guide, you automatically agree to these terms.”
Er, no. I don’t. Sorry. I’m just reading. I haven’t agreed to anything by just reading. This appears to be an attempt to make a copyright notice a contract. It’s not. You can go the Creative Commons route and allow additional uses that would ordinarily be covered by copyright in a license, but you can’t treat a license and a contract like they’re the same thing. Most of the time.
-“Any material found used without my permission is plagiarism, and I won’t tolerate it.”
Material used is not necessarily plagiarism. When material used is plagiarism, it might not necessarily be infringing on copyright. Copyright infringement is not equal to plagiarism, although they are related terms. Copyright infringement is a legal issue, and plagiarism is a (very serious) ethical issue. When plagiarism does correspond with copyright infringement, it’s probably illegal. Otherwise, it’s unethical. While you may not tolerate it, there’s actually not a lot you can do about it besides publicly shaming the plagiarist.

The gamefaqs.com copyright notice is better, but still somewhat misleading: This may be not be reproduced under any circumstances except for personal, private use. It may not be placed on any web site or otherwise distributed publicly without advance written permission. Use of this guide on any other web site or as a part of any public display is strictly prohibited, and a violation of copyright.

Well, that’s pretty standard fare. However, I can certainly take excerpts from an FAQ in certain circumstances and publicly display them without written permission. This notice falls under the same trap as most copyright notices- it ignores exemptions such as fair use, educational exemptions, library and archives exemptions and so on.

Now, their copyright FAQ does mention fair use, which is a plus, and does provide some basic information. Their FAQ also has a great deal of information that is a bit debatable, or at least could be expanded upon. The fair use question is a good example. Their emphasis on “limited portions” is usually correct, but there are situations in which the copyright-related use of a complete work can be fair. The examples they give, though, about posting complete FAQs without permission are probably not fair uses, and those are the types of uses they’re concerned about.

The ironic part of many of these notices is that if companies attempted to behave the same way, these FAQs wouldn’t exist. FAQs obviously “refer” to content in games, and many quote game text pretty liberally.

Blizzard- AGAIN?

Public Citizen | Press Room – Software Company Wrongfully Interfered with Sale of Guide to Popular Video Game on eBay

Here’s more on the Blizzard story from CNET. Blizzard’s restrictive policies and in this case, abuse of the DMCA, are far more destructive to Blizzard’s goodwill and recognition than any guide could possibly be.

Rockstar legal warriors squash online installation | The Daily Page

Rockstar legal warriors squash online installation | The Daily Page

Again, games and copyright cross paths and the resulting crash isn’t pretty. GamePolitics linked to this article about Rockstar’s use of a DMCA Cease and Desist notice to take down a student’s site. The site used material from the Warriors in a manner that was critical to their games (and video games in general, really). I find the use of the DMCA particularly unappealing in this case. I don’t particularly care for the GTA series- not that I haven’t played any of them, but they’re just not my thing. Despite that, I would defend the game maker’s own free speech and expression rights. I find their (mis)use of copyright to stifle social commentary in this situation hypocritical.

Collected Responses to Otakon’s Artist Policy Announcement

The Anime News Network reported that sale of fan art based on properties that the artist does not own the copyright for or have a license to produce will not be permitted at the Otakon artists’ alley this year. The issue turned out to be not quite as broad as that. Here are my collected responses from forums (so I don’t lose ’em).

(more…)

Every time I’m tempted to pick up World of Warcraft again…

…something like this occurs that makes me question whether or not I want to give money to Blizzard. Early on, the bnetd issue. Last time it was their invasive anti-cheating measures. This time, I haven’t gotten a handle on their policies against advertising for a gay-friendly guild.

Slashdot | Gay Guild Recruitment Disallowed From WoW?

In Newsweekly -.- Gaming -.- Blizzard of GLBT gaming policy questions

Boing Boing: World of Warcraft: Don’t tell anyone you’re queer

A few issues. First, some respond in a way that ignores the problem; that you’ve agreed to a EULA so you have to do what Blizzard says. Of course, that’s not entirely true. EULAs are not necessarily valid forms of contract in whole or in part; and different parts may be enforced differently in various jurisdictions. Again, though, that’s ignoring a problem. Blizzard offers a service, so at some point they are accountable to the users of their service.

Do I think this is bad? Yes, for a variety of reasons. From a game-play perspective, one of their goals is immersion, particularly on the servers that have been designated as RPG servers. Should people not RP that they’re gay, then, because they might be harrassed? Is harrassment itself in character? Where do they draw the line?

Do they allow advertising for the Christian guilds that I’ve been reading about? Wouldn’t that also invite harrassment?

Isn’t harrassment punishable by suspension? Then why aren’t they suspending the harrassers rather then not allowing the advertisement in the first place?

I don’t know. Is Blizzard more likely to listen to people when they no longer give them money, or when they are paying customers? When they leave, or when they return? I don’t have a good answer for this. I can make arguments either way.

You don’t have freedom of speech when using a private corporation’s resources. There is no “public space,” as much as they might want us to feel like we’re in a public space. At some points, like this one, the perception and the reality of the situation collides. I firmly believe that the cure for “bad speech” is more speech, not the restriction of speech.

Of course, this problem hasn’t been resolved in the “real” world, either. This makes the issue… well… realistic. Unsurprising.

Ultimately, Blizzard will need to clarify it’s policies and act consistently in the enforcement of those policies.

Edit: Well, we did it- Holly and I are back. Utopian Hell and Iconochron have good discussions about the subject in their comments.

First thing to tempt me to get a Nintendo DS…

GameSpy3A20A20Boy20and20His20Blob20Preview

A new release of a Boy and his Blob. Old news, but new to me. ^_^ aBahB was one of my favorite games on the NES- basically, you and your alien Blob pal must adventure to save his homeworld (aptly named Blobonia). You get past obstacles by feeding him different jellybeans, which allow him to change shape into useful things. (Cinnamon=blowtorch, licorice=ladder, cola=bubble, ketchup=catch up to you, vanlilla umbrella, trangerine trampoline, etc.). Of course, now I find myself wondering if this new title has the same lack of relationship to the original as a Bard’s Tale did… is this a remake, an appeal to nostalgia, and/or taking advantage of a loss of trademark?

Star Wars Fans Flee Net Galaxy

From Wired, Wired News: Star Wars Fans Flee Net Galaxy

This certainly doesn’t inspire me in the least to try Star Wars Galaxies, even if the new play is as great as Sony Online claims (I have my doubts, but even if…). I just don’t want to pay money to a company that treats its users so poorly. First, there’s the obvious “if they did it to THEM…” thought. Second, it just seems unjust to sell out your dedicated user base in such a manner.

The Video Game Revolution:

The Video Game Revolution: “Eight Myths About Video Games Debunked” by Henry Jenkins | PBS

A pro-game article from the PBS website by MIT Professor Henry Jenkins, refuting common attacks on games and gaming.

Hot Girl-On-Girl Action (in Video Games)

I followed this link from Sivacracy.
http://utopianhell.com/blog/hot-girl-on-girl-action

I completely see the point. For an industry that is purporting to attract female gamers, there sure isn’t equality in video games. I’m not just talking Rockstar, here… I thought it odd that World of Warcraft’s succubus didn’t offer an incubus counterpart, and apparently Everquest 2 has a similar problem.

In some games, you don’t even get the option to play a female character. In others, you’re given the option, but when given the chance to have sex with some other character, the character is female.

The reason? The bulk of game-playing America are homophobic, socially challenged men with very vivid fantasies about playing females who get to have sex with other females. Even when female characters are added to the game, they aren’t added with equal importance, nor are they added with the thought that maybe, just maybe, a woman might be playing that female character.

Completely accurate criticism. Vampire: Bloodlines, a game I played to (un)death, slightly moved in that direction, at least- there were men you could only use seduction (a skill) on while playing a male and women you couldn’t use seduction on when playing a female- but for the most part it followed that same trend. (The seduction skill was one of the dialog options used for a couple of purposes. It was one of the options available along with intimidation and persuasion to convince someone to give you information or other benefit, and it was also the option used to “seduce” people in bars and clubs to be able to feed on them without attracting attention.) Come to think of it, although I used the plural in the previous sentence, it should be amended: there was a man that could only be seduced by a man, and a woman that couldn’t be seduced by a woman. For the most part it followed the same traditional game roles noted in the article. The “people” I mentioned in the parenthetical line above were always women.

It was a start, but the gaming industry has a ways to go.

Ugh. Blizzard spyware.

According to Copyfight, Blizzard is spying on its users to make sure they’re complying with the EULA, and that spying goes far further than it should. At this point, I’m glad my wife and I chose to let our subscriptions lapse.