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Re: Releasing a software implementation of a board game as Free Software

"Dr. ERDI Gergo" <cactus@cactus.rulez.org> writes:

> [Please CC replies to cactus@cactus.rulez.org]


> I have no idea where I could get questions like this answered, so I
> thought Debian-Legal would be a good place.

You should definitely seek experienced legal opinion in your
jurisdiction before doing what you propose.

It might be polite to ask the holder of any trademark, copyright, or
patent in the board game what their attitude is toward this kind of

> I'm a European software developer and I'd like to release a GNOME
> software implementation of a commercial board game.

Whether it's commercial (traded for money) or not, doesn't really
matter. What matters is any rights held to concepts in the board game.

> The game in question is Gobblet
> (http://www.blueorangegames.com/gobblet.php). Can I release the game
> as Free Software (if I don't use the trademark Gobblet anywhere in
> its description)?

If some party holds any trademark to the game's name or image, you
can't legally use that name or image (or anything confusingly similar)
for your game without license.

If some party holds any copyright in any of the game's creative
content (rules, images, text, etc.), you can't legally base your work
on that content without license. You can, though, generate entirely
new content of your own, or from work for which you do have license to

If some party holds any patent in the game's mechanics, you can't
legally implement those mechanics in your game without license. I
don't know how far this extends to abstract mechanics; European
legislations have historically been to be relatively sensible on the
topic of patenting abstract methods and algorithms, though this is
certainly a disputed topic.

Yes, unfortunately board games can be restricted by all three of these
disparate bodies of law. This may be part of why it's so expensive to
produce a board game.

On the other hand, many board game companies are aware of the fact
that fan-based derivative works only serve to drive up interest in
their games, so you may find the company quite helpful.

 \           "[W]hoever is able to make you absurd is able to make you |
  `\                                             unjust."  -- Voltaire |
_o__)                                                                  |
Ben Finney

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