Wednesday, January 18, 2012

SOPA, Bad For Sandbox MMO's?

I read an interesting article in Gamasutra called "Minecraft, Intellectual Property, and the Future of Copyright" by Terra Nova blogger Greg Lastowka that showed how Minecraft goes against the conventional wisdom when it comes to copywrite laws and game developers.  The Professor of Law at the Rutgers School of Law-Camden argues that intellectual property law in the U.S. leads game studios to develop themepark games instead of sandbox games.

In the article he uses NCSoft's battle against Marvel Comics about players creating avatars in City of Heroes that too closely resemble Marvel Comics characters.  NCSoft tried to use the Digital Millennium Copyright Act as a defense but a federal court refused to throw out the case.  The case never went to trial as the two companies soon after settled out of court.

Professor Lastowka then proceeded to speculate on the future.
"There is a legislative front to Viacom's efforts [against YouTube] as well. Pending bills like the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) are essentially asking Congress to revisit the compromise enacted by the DMCA. While it seems unlikely as of today that SOPA will become law, the balance between technology and copyright may still shift to make the technology industry carry more of the burden of copyright enforcement. For instance, online payment companies that do business with sandbox game makers may face legal threats due to the copyright infringements of users.
"Unlike Hollywood and the recording industry, the game industry has perspective on both sides of the SOPA debate. The split between the ESA and developers like Riot Games demonstrates this.
"However, it seems that most of the major players in the industry are choosing to side with the content industries in the digital copyright wars. To the extent new laws work against the development of sandbox games and interactive platforms generally, this is understood as an acceptable tradeoff for stopping piracy."
Minecraft has apparently figured out a way around this trend.  But for those wondering why we don't see more sandbox games, apparently themepark games aren't just a good idea, but it's the law.

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