Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Software Copyrights Keep Getting Attractive

I keep advocating for the use of software copyrights to defend your software products, and it looks like that message is taking hold. I don't just mean using copyrights to prevent people from making pirate copies of your actual software. That's the easy case. I also mean in the broader sense of another developer waiting to see what software becomes popular, and then knocking it off--independently developing a clone and selling it under a different name.

That's exactly what has happened to Atari. Back in 1980, Atari offered an arcade game called Battlezone, which was very popular for its then-new wire-frame look and feel. Recently, a company called Black Powder Media released some look-alike games for iOS 5 that mimicked Atari's Battlezone game. So Atari sued for copyright infringement and had Black Powder Media's games taken out of the Apple app store.
Now I readily admit that copyright protection does not extend to ideas, concepts, or methods of operation. But still, where one company waits until a video game is popular to start selling a clone of that game, are they copying the idea of that video game or the expression of that idea? I say it's the expression itself. To conclude otherwise is basically to say that the particular look and feel of a video game has nothing to do with its popularity. All first person shooters should be equally popular. But they are not.
You can't wait until a game company, for example, stumbles on the magic look-and-feel for a winning game, and then just knock if off. I say that is exactly how conventional copyright policies apply to the new world technology.