From time to time, people write in with short questions about intellectual property law.  We’re always happy to help educate the public about their IP rights, so KLF Legal tries to respond to each inquiry as best we can.   The answers tend to be brief since the questions don’t typically include a lot of information.  However, I thought it might be helpful to share these questions from time to time in a new post category entitled “Dear KLF Legal”…enjoy!

Dear KLF Legal

Q: I would like to use selected quotations (varying in length from 1 sentence to 1 paragraph) as part of lecture materials available on a website. The quotes are from books that are not public domain, and they will be properly cited. The lectures will be posted with a Creative Commons License. Do I need to request permission to use the quotations?

A: You’re using someone else’s copyrighted work, so your instincts are correct to request permission. It’s always better to err against infringement. However, depending on your specific circumstances, your use may be considered “fair use,” in which case you would not be required to request permission in order to avoid infringing.

Quick explanation: One of the rights accorded to copyright owner is the right to reproduce or to authorize others to reproduce the work in copies. This right is subject to certain limitations found in the Copyright Act. One of the more important limitations is the doctrine of “fair use” in Section 107, which contains a list of the various purposes for which the reproduction of a particular work may be considered “fair,” such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research. Section 107 also sets out four factors to be considered in determining whether or not a particular use is fair:

1. the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;

2. the nature of the copyrighted work;

3. amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and

4. the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work

The distinction between “fair use” and infringement may be unclear and not easily defined. There is no specific number of words, lines, or notes that may safely be taken without permission. *NOTE* that acknowledging the source of the copyrighted material does not substitute for obtaining permission.

Depending on your circumstances, you may want to have someone familiar with copyright law look at the selected quotes and help you make that analysis. It sounds like your situation might qualify for “fair use,” but it’s not possible to advise further without more details.

Hope this helps.

KLF Legal

Dear KLF Legal

Q: I want to create a collectible card game. I want to use the basic rules from another card game. I am changing the terms and how certain things work and the basis of the game itself. I plan on trying to publish and sell this game. I am wondering if I will be fine legally? If not how much of the original rules need to be changed before it is considered a new property?

A: There is no special category of copyright protection for games as a whole. Copyright does not protect the idea or concept behind a game, nor does it protect the information as to how the game is to be played. Ideas, information and styles are not protected by copyright. 

Note that copyright laws may protect a particular written expression of the rules. Your best option is to completely rewrite the rules in your own words.

Also be careful to avoid the use of any trademarks or trade dress associated with the original game.

Good luck with your game!

KLF Legal