Video Games and the Law

Like virtually every other activity Americans engage in on a daily basis, even video games are subject to the restrictions and protections of the law. This is also an area of increasing interest as hundreds of new companies come into the video game market every year by developing the wildly popular game apps played on mobile phones and tablet devices.

Just like other forms of media law, the biggest focus of this area is copyright and licensing and, to some extent, free speech and expression.


For new game developers, particularly smaller ones, it is critical to understand the importance of having clear and complete paperwork demonstrating either the originality of all elements of the game or the right to use any elements of your game. Assuming your work is original or properly licensed, it will then be critical to protect it from others who might infringe against it. To that end, consider the following questions:

Where did the concept for a game originate? If you took the idea from your favorite comic book, film, book, or other source, you should seek permission (a license) before moving forward.

Did the person who did any voice over work sign a release making clear that he or she has no ownership interest in the final product? Failing to get a release could lead to a voice actor looking for royalties.

How will others know about your ownership of the property? Are you going to seek a formal copyright? Trademark your name or characters? Patent a novel process used for rendering your game?

Free Speech and Freedom of Expression

Much was made of violence in video games almost since their introduction in the late 1970's. Nevertheless, a 2011 US Supreme Court case decided the matter once and for all, holding that video games could not be censored based on video game violence. Recognizing the value of video games as a medium of expression just like books, movies, music, and other art, the Supreme Court held that video game violence could not be categorized as some new form of unprotected speech.

Of course, there is much more that goes into the successful creation and development of video games, including business matters, contracts, employment and independent contractor agreements, and many other legal considerations. As a result, if you are a video game developer, you should consider retaining a qualified and experienced attorney in your area who will be able to help you with running your business, negotiating your contracts, protecting your intellectual property, etc.

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Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer.
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