Cyborg Earthworm»Blog

Legal issues

After making a pretty good progress in May, I thought that I should get more serious about this project. This would involve:

1. Sorting out legal issues. The Tetris Company has been suing people for copyright infringement very actively, and I have to find out a way to avoid a lawsuit.
2. Putting the prototype online and posting a note to a couple of appropriate subreddits and maybe Hacker News to find out whether people find this game interesting (I still don't know whether they will, frankly).
3. Thinking about doing some PR and eventually making the PC version commercial, if there is enough interest. Ideally, getting a licence from TTC to be able to use the word "Tetris" in the description would increase discoverability greatly (I think).

Basically, TTC copyrighted everything they could and a couple of things they couldn't. "Tetriminoes" is a trademark, which is ok, I guess, since they are not tetrominoes. Shapes of blocks are copyrighted, which is pretty confusing: does it mean that the square is copyrighted? Or does it mean that the shapes of the tetrominoes are copyrighted? Both options are pretty surreal, so I hope it only means that the sprites are copyrighted, but with TTC it could be anything. In 2012 they won a lawsuit where they claimed that an author of a clone infringed on their copyright by copying the playfield dimensions (10x20).

I asked New Media Rights for an advice on this issue. They were very vague and didn't really say anything that I didn't know (other that they would have to do a formal review before they can say anything specific). Asking for a formal review would be probably helpful, but even if I don't infringe on anything, it doesn't mean TTC can't sue me, and if they do, I won't have any money to hire a lawyer.

I also asked TTC for a permission to use the word "Tetris" in the description, but they said that they aren't interested in exploring this possibility.

All of this makes me think about how to proceed with the project. I can use the name "The Game of Falling Tetrominoes" instead of "Tetris" with the (hopefully easy to remember) acronym GoFT, but this won't solve the problem of having a violently litigious company hovering around. I could hope that they will never bother to sue me because my game is not a clone or because I'm too small for them, but trying to become an independent game designer is difficult enough and I don't want to have legal issues at the very beginning of it. Frankly speaking, I'm thinking about deferring the project until the day when I have enough resources to fight off lawsuits. I have a lot of game ideas and exploring one or another doesn't make a big difference.

As usual, any advice is appreciated.
Asaf Gartner,
IIRC there's a video game lawyer on reddit that sometimes gives free legal advice. I think it might be this person.
Anton Swifton,
Free legal advice is not a very useful thing, but thanks for pointing out.