Clone Wars: When Does Imitation Become Infringement?
Video game developers have historically looked to successful games for inspiration. In a case involving the owner of renowned game Tetris, "inspiration" seemed to mirror plagiarism when Xio Interactive Inc. released it’s very similar game, Mino. In the end, a federal district court granted summary judgment to Tetris Holdings stating that the look and feel of Tetris is copyrightable as the expression of the idea distinguishable from the ideas of the game. In its opinion, the court reiterated the well-known refrain that game developers are free to use others' ideas, but not the expression of those ideas.
Sean F. Kane,
James G. Gatto
Sean Kane, intellectual property counsel in Pillsbury's New York office and Jim Gatto, partner in Pillsbury's Northern Virginia office and leader of the firm's virtual worlds and videogames team, note that the takeaway from this case should be that developers must be thoughtful in the ways they pay homage to other games. Refraining from literal copying of the underlying code of a game is a good practice but is not necessarily sufficient to protect what is otherwise a "clone" game.
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