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Started by Valamir, August 28, 2001, 09:06:00 PM

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Clinton just posted a very useful article on publishing indie games, but one thing not addressed is copyright...that vast morass of seemingly contradictory government BS.

I've been doing some poking around the Copyright office website and came up with some strange items that don't seem to make a lot of sense to me.

Here are some items I did know to get us started.

1) It is no longer necessary (though still a good idea) to actually claim "this work is copyrighted".  All work is assumed to be.

2) "Publishing" as defined by the Copyright office means transfering a copyrightable work for money (purchase, lease, or rent) but does not include public performances (like concerts or shows)even if paid for.

Now...heres where things get strange.

1) I had originally thought that while every work is copyrighted automatically that you have to register with the copyright office in order to use the "circle C" symbol.  That is not the case.  Anyone is free to use the symbol in place of the word copyright.

2) Registration with the copyright office is optional **sort of**.  You MUST register to persue a legal claim of infringement.  In otherwords: yes your work is automatically copyrighted without registration, but in order to enforce that copyright you must register.  

Further, and this one is MUST register within 3 months of publication OR at least 3 months PRIOR to the infringment in question in order to collect statutory damages and legal fees in an law suit.  Otherwise you are limited to actual damages only.  

Also you MUST register to gain protection against the importation of foriegn pirated copies.  If someone starts printing copies of your game in China and selling them over here there's not a damn thing you can do about it unless you've registered...and if you didn't register within the time limit above your ability to collect damages is limited.

Short lesson...Registration is not required but if you actually plan on making money on the thing its a damn good idea (cost is about 30$).

3) This is the biggie.  Now I've known that when you register you must provide a copy of the work being registered (2 actually) to the copyright office.  However what I didn't realise is that if you *publish* a work (i.e. get paid for it) you MUST deposit 2 copies with them even if you didn't register.

This seems somewhat silly so I did some more digging and while I found that you can request a hardship exemption from deposit, or certain works the Library of Congress just plain isn't interested in...there is no (that I could find) blanket exemption for certain classes of publication.

The way I'm reading this is that if you're selling your game, even in PDF form for $10 on the web, the Copyright Office demands (and has the ability to enforce compliance) that you send to them 2 copies of the "best edition" of your work.  This is entirely independent of registration (although it can be combined with it to satisfy the deposit requirements for each) and is called Mandatory Deposit.

Does any one here know if there is a blanket exemption that would cover indie game publishing (which I can't imagine the LoC having any interest in whatsoever)?  If not, have any of you indie publishers who've recieved money for your work actually fulfilled (what seem to me to be) these mandatory requirements.

Do "professional" game companies typically follow this Mandatory Deposit rule?  John, did you send 2 copies of Orkworld off to them?  Did AEG send them copies of every L5R and 7th Sea book?

I must say I was rather shocked to read about this requirement and am not certain I understand it correctly, but it seems like the answer is that we have to...

Anyone know more than I on this?

Ron Edwards


Thanks for starting this thread. It's a topic that probably needs airing.

Speaking for myself, I can say I'm reluctant to disclose Sorcerer's copyright/registry status. Why? Because if it's revealed right here and now, and if it turns out to be lacking, then ... oh my God ... the orcish hordes will steal my stuff, and nothing can be done about it!

So I'll remain, however unsuccessfully, vague about actual books and publishers. That said, I don't think anyone submits their two little copies, or even (gasp!) registers very often. (Side question: where does the copyright office PUT these things? Two of every record album? Video cassettte? Book? Come on!)

Also, during your digging, did you find the exact place and form that one uses to register? Any hope of a specific URL?


Misguided Games

Ron asked:

Side question: where does the copyright office PUT these things?

No, you don't HAVE to actually put a copyright statement to have protection in many cases, but why not do it anyway?  I had also thought to use the "c" in the circle it had to be registered (as with the "r" in the circle for trademarks).  Where did you see this?  You may also spell out "Copyright" or use "Copyr." I believe.


A 'copyright' is just that; a right that no entity may grant to you because it is already yours.

Once any creative work is completed (e.g., art, writing, etc.) you may handwrite or print the little circled 'c' symbol on it (if you want to).  However, this is not necessary because while the original (art, writing, etc.) is yours you still retain all rights to copy it for sale or any other form of distribution you decide.  

Any entity claiming that you need to register your work 'in order to protect it' is a fraud.  It is already protected by your right as the creator of the original.

A copyright lasts (if I recall correctly) 50 years from the completion of the original (art, writing, etc.)


Ron Edwards

See, every time this topic comes up, it goes 'round and 'round.

Point A: your work is already copyrighted (just put it on the page, whether you have to or not is immaterial; just put it on the page).

Point B: there's some mysterious registry - you have to "register," it costs $X, if you don't register some THING can happen.

Repeat Point A, Repeat Point B. It gets pretty wearing reading it over and over.

What people (or I anyway) really want to know is this:

- If Joe Jerkoff starts selling Sorcerer or something way too much like it, can I sue his ass?
- If Huge Corporation X makes a Sorcerer video game or kids' book or supplement for the game, can I sue their ass?
- If Game Company Z claims that I am infringing on their copyright with Sorcerer, can I defend myself with MY copyright?

How are these things done? And what "registration" is NECESSARY, if any?

I have extensive records and documentation of my commercial history with Sorcerer. As far as I understand it, THAT is the key evidence or record of my "ownership." If I go into legal action of some kind, that's what I have in the brown expandable folder.

Again: is there some kind of registration that makes my case more successful? And if so, what EXACTLY is the procedure for getting it? All the yipyap at the Copyright Office does NOT answer this question.



JS I'm afraid is wrong.  It isn't that simple.  And the organization claiming you have to register is not a fraud, its the US Copyright Office found below.  Further before 1978 you'd be totally wrong.  If you didn't declare your intent to copyright your weren't protected this blanket right of ownership is a (relatively) modern invention.

This site indicates quite plainly that you DO NOT need to register in order to be protected, but YOU DO need to register in order to enforce that claim.  So Ron, you may have a brown envelope full of proof, but before you can bring suit against an infringer you have to register.  You can register at any time BUT (and this is a big but) if your registration isn't effective at least 3 months prior to the infraction you're suing for you can collect only actual damages, you will NOT be able to collect statuatory damages (i.e. punative type stuff) or legal fees.

From the above site:


In general, copyright registration is a legal formality intended to make a public record of the basic facts of a particular copyright. However, registration is not a condition of copyright protection. Even though registration is not a requirement for protection, the copyright law provides several inducements or advantages to encourage copyright owners to make registration. Among these advantages are the following:

1) Registration establishes a public record of the copyright claim.

2) Before an infringement suit may be filed in court, registration is necessary for works of U. S. origin.

3) If made before or within 5 years of publication, registration will establish prima facie evidence in court of the validity of the copyright and of the facts stated in the certificate.

4) If registration is made within 3 months after publication of the work or prior to an infringement of the work, statutory damages and attorney's fees will be available to the copyright owner in court actions. Otherwise, only an award of actual damages and profits is available to the copyright owner.

5) Registration allows the owner of the copyright to record the registration with the U. S. Customs Service for protection against the importation of infringing copies. For additional information, request Publication No. 563 "How to Protect Your Intellectual Property Right," from: U.S. Customs Service, P.O. Box 7404, Washington, D.C. 20044. See the U.S. Customs Service Website at for online publications.

Registration may be made at any time within the life of the copyright. Unlike the law before 1978, when a work has been registered in unpublished form, it is not necessary to make another registration when the work becomes published, although the copyright owner may register the published edition, if desired.

Pay special attention to the numbered notes, particularly 2 and 4.

In answer to Ron's question about registration proceedures, the top link at the above site is "Copyright Basics" (which is where this quote is from also).  One of the items there is "Registration Procedures" which include: an application form, $30, and a copy of the work being registered.  An address to send the total package (all together) is provided but on cursory inspection I did not see a link to the form.

To answer Misguided's Question about the use of circle C I can only offer the following :

Form of Notice for Visually Perceptible Copies
The notice for visually perceptible copies should contain all the following three elements:

1. The symbol © (the letter C in a circle), or the word "Copyright," or the abbreviation "Copr."; and

2. The year of first publication of the work. In the case of compilations or derivative works incorporating previously published material, the year date of first publication of the compilation or derivative work is sufficient. The year date may be omitted where a pictorial, graphic, or sculptural work, with accompanying textual matter, if any, is reproduced in or on greeting cards, postcards, stationery, jewelry, dolls, toys, or any useful article; and

3. The name of the owner of copyright in the work, or an abbreviation by which the name can be recognized, or a generally known alternative designation of the owner.

Example: © 2000 John Doe

The "C in a circle" notice is used only on "visually perceptible copies."

No where could I find an indication that option 1 above could only be used after registration (as you and I both thought)...that of course is not entirely conclusive.

With regards to the MANDATORY DEPOSIT of ALL published items (even those not registered)  I offer the following.


Although a copyright registration is not required, the Copyright Act establishes a mandatory deposit requirement for works published in the United States. See the definition of "publication." In general, the owner of copyright or the owner of the exclusive right of publication in the work has a legal obligation to deposit in the Copyright Office, within 3 months of publication in the United States, two copies (or in the case of sound recordings, two phonorecords) for the use of the Library of Congress. Failure to make the deposit can result in fines and other penalties but does not affect copyright protection.

Certain categories of works are exempt entirely from the mandatory deposit requirements, and the obligation is reduced for certain other categories. For further information about mandatory deposit, request Circular 7d, "Mandatory Deposit of Copies or Phonorecords for the Library of Congress."

Note the second paragraph does provide exemptions, but so far I have not found any thing that specifically indicates that Indie games are among those.  Which was why I initially asked if any one knew more about this.

[ This Message was edited by: Valamir on 2001-08-29 14:23 ]


I'm not going to go surfing the net to find jibber jabber and legalities, as it's already been provided in this thread. I can, however, give you some real life examples and try to help you make sense of it all.

You do not HAVE to register to be protected- this is true.
You do HAVE to register to enforce your claim- this is also true.

Look at the above statements.

There was a period of time in the state of MS wherein you were not REQUIRED to carry car insurance. However, if you were involved in an accident and did not have car insurance you were ticketed for not upholding state insurance requirements. You were required to carry auto insurance at the time of any accident. That's what this copyright thing is.

And it's not a bad thing.
It means if you "create" something, it's yours and you don't NEED the government to tell you it's yours. The only other way to write the law is "all articles created by persons or companies "MUST" be copywritten and registered" therefore making it illegal to write a love not and not copyright it.

Now.. despite what the law says, I can very firmly tell you that non-registered material still cannot usually be stolen. UNLESS the person stealing registers the copyright three months or more before you realize it's been stolen. And even then.. the judge arbitrating the case is going to take into account whichever evidences you can show.

For example, let's say John Doe writes a poem and puts it in his journal, takes a pen and writes DEC 1st 1995 on the bottom of the paper and signs it.
A year later Jane Smith sneaks into his room and copies the poem then Copyrights it. Now if he sued her.. he'd lose. She's got a registered copyright, he's got a hand written note.

In Ron's scenario.. he's got detailed annotated transcactions concerning his manuscript. He'd still probably win, if say, I stole his stuff and registered a copyright then waited three months and sued him, or waited three months then promoted "my" sorceror game and he sued me. He has the evidence.

What you should be more concerned of however, is what the definition of copyright infringement is. Take the music industry for example you can steal almost anything from another artist and as long as you can prove you did it in the spirit of "Parody" then it's okay. (See 2LiveCrew winning a case against the Roy Orbison foundation for the right to play and record "Pretty Woman" including the original music, and title)

If you are concerened about copyright infringement, REGISTER your stuff. It's 30 dollars. Also, do some further checking because I know for a fact that if you are registering Song Lyrics.. for 30 bucks you can register as many as you want provided you do it all at the same time in the same envelope, etc. etc.
I would assume that this is the same with all material.

Instead of registering EACH INDIVIDUAL game/book/poem/song/article/etc. register them all as one document. You aren't Trademarking your stuff, you are copyrighting it. You are saying that this is your material. Not saying "Nobody can use the term "Making It Great" to sell pizza" Therefore instead of registering:


Then registering

Expansion 1

Expansion 2


Register The collective works of Ron Edwards including the following texts:

and send them all in.

Now of course, in the future you'll have to register new things alone, but it's a better idea to have as much as you can when you send it off.

Finally, I'm not sure if revisions are covered in the initial copyright, but I do know that you have the right to liscense your material or part of your material. So if you make a revision, then liscense it to yourself and You are covered that way. The way to do this is easy. If you registered it as "ME" then liscense it to "My Company" and vice-versa.

I've spent hundreds on copyrights and even more on trademarks. I'll be the first to tell you.. register to be prepared, but don't register EVERYTHING you ever write/create. It's pointless. Also trademarks are pointless unless you are really really really obnoxiously stuck on nobody using your name. For example, I own the trademark for "Demi Human Records" and as such nobody can operate business under that name. "Demi Human Games" however is not trademarked and anyone is free to use it all they want. I'll just change mine to "Demi Human Gaming" or something because it's not worth it to me to trademark the name. It's a matter of how important your work is to you. Everything I write I register, because a copyright is useless unless you can defend it. However, in instances where I've written a song and recorded shortly after.. I don't register it. I simply allow the song to exist on it's own merit with the date of legal production being enough evidence to prove it's my material.

Sorry this was so long.. but I hope this clears some stuff up for you.



Real quick..

Concerning Law Suits Ron...
You can sue anyone for just about anything in America.
I was sued 2 years ago over a contract dispute that I had never had any involvement in. I had never met the people suing me, and did not work for the company they had signed a contract with, but I still had to appear in court to defend myself. Obviously I won, and luckily the company that DID hold the contract in question sent thier lawyer to defend me, otherwise I would have still paid the legal costs or had to counter-sue.  So if someone steals your stuff, first talk to a lawyer, but be prepared to take them to court. If it's yours and you are certain you can prove it's yours.. then you have a case. Registered trademark or not. Again TALK TO A LAWYER BEFORE YOU DO ANYTHING. I am not a lawyer and as such am not qualified to give legal advice. Just keep it in mind is all I'm saying.


Ron Edwards


Great post! But for very stupid individuals, such as myself, finish it as follows:

- exactly what form is filled out for registry? Where exactly is it sent?



Ok, did a little more digging...mostly by following obvious links I'd previously overlooked.

The forms needed to register are available in PDF with instructions.  The very first one on the list "Form TX" (near as I can tell from the very broad definition of Literary Work) is the one that applies to us.

Also with regards to Mandatory Deposits.  Part 202.19 the the Copyright Regulations found at the link below lists off all of the works receiving a blanket exemption from Mandatory Deposit.  Unfortunately I can not see one that applies to us.

Items specifically exempted from deposit include:

Technical drawings, greeting cards, postcards, stationary, lectures, speeches, databases, sculpture, catalogs, advertisements, tests, individual contributions to a collective work itself deposited (including individual songs in a movie soundtrack), movies or TV progams licensed only to non profit organizations.

Everything else must be deposited unless case by case special exemption is granted by the Chief of the Examining Division.

Now Circular 7 says, that absolutely nothing happens to you for FAILING to meet these requirements until such time as the Library of Congress looks in their archives for a copy and doesn't find it.  Then they'll request it from you and if they don't get it within 3 months you're subject to fines of $250 per item plus the retail cost of the item.  If the refusal is repeated or willful the fine is increased to $2,500.

So...near as I can figure without consulting an actual attorney...

Yes Indie Games sold for profit (the definition of being published) MUST deposit 2 copies with the LoC.  However if you fail to do so, its no big deal unless the LoC decides it really wants a copy and comes looking for one.

I suppose that means if someone able to do so went to the LoC and requested a copy of Sorcerer and the LoC realized it wasn't in their archive that they'd send Ron a letter requesting their mandatory 2 copies.  As long as you provide them at that time within 3 problem.

However, you can meet the Mandatory Deposit requirements simultaneously with the Registration requirements.  So if you're going to register you might as well send them the extra copy (best edition required).


For the record a copyright lasts for the life of the author +70 years.

Or, for work for hire, date of creation +120 years, or date of publication +95 years whichever is less

[ This Message was edited by: Valamir on 2001-08-29 16:37 ]

Ron Edwards

Gentlemen etc,

There is no place for insults and personal statements in this discussion.

Continue in a civilized manner.



Just out of curiosity.. where did the 1978 thing come in? Am I just blatantly stupid and missing it in one of the posts?

Secondly.. no need to act like this is a newsgroup either. So please use the politically correct term for "Asshole" and rephrase it to be "Person who's opinion differs from mine in a way I'm unable to cope with"

[Just saw where the 1978 thing came in (hence the edit). It is correct that 1978 is 23 years ago, but considering that your post (JS) mentioned a 50 year virtue on published materials it seems very relevent in my opinion. Going by your post, if I wrote something in 1965 I would still be covered. With the realization that the law changed in 1978.. well that changes things]



[ This Message was edited by: FilthySuperman on 2001-08-29 15:49 ]

Ron Edwards

I mean it - quit. Ralph, T, I am handling this, not you.

Return to the discussion of copyrights, and ONLY copyrights, or this thread is locked.


Ron Edwards

To all,

What I said still goes. Don't try to figure out whom it's directed to, because it's directed to everyone.

Yes, I think that your work on this topic definitely needs to get archived in the most useful way possible, which would be on the Self-Publishing page. If everyone could focus on hashing out more of the details and practicalities in this discussion, then that's where it'll end up.