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Protecting intellectual property rights in the billion-dollar world of virtual gaming

Protecting intellectual property rights in the billion-dollar world of virtual gaming
From TechCrunch - January 23, 2018

Virtual reality may have found a game-changing partner: esports.

Recently it was announced that Justice League VR: The Complete Experience is making its way from IMAX VR locations to PlayStation VR headsets, enabling video game users to step into the shoes of their favorite superheroes, such as Batman and Wonder Woman. The news comes on the heels of announcements that the publisher of the wildly popular video game Halo will team up with Microsoft to incorporate mixed reality headsets into the game and that Intel will create a competitive VR esports league with the help of ESL and Oculus.

Its clear that the days of esports being merely a spectator sport are numbered, as soon users wont just be sitting and watching the story unfold on a computer screen, theyll be immersed in it. What challenges will this immersion create when it comes to protecting ones intellectual property rights to the contents of a game and the innovative technologies involved, like VR? Undoubtedly, disputes over ownership of the underlying technology will increase as more players have a hand in the soon-to-be billion-dollar industry.

On the content side, developers will continue to seek protection of their copyright to the games and the underlying concepts regarding how the games are played. The Copyright Office has stated that copyright law does not protect the idea of a game by itself. Once a game has been made public, nothing in copyright law prevents others from developing another game based on similar principles. However, copyright law does protect the expression of ideas, the unique expression of the games underlying concepts that make the character and content of the game.

If there is some copying, courts typically look to whether the allegedly infringing work is based upon or substantially similar to the original work. Generally, third parties are allowed to use the ideas contained in the game so long as they dont copy the expression of those ideas from the original worksuch as the underlying software game code or those creative elements of the game that make up the look and feel of the copyrighted work. This will remain the case when the gaming industry incorporates VR, crafting a more complex gaming world for the user.

Theres no doubt the game developer owns the content of the game, but as VR enables the user to interact with the content in a variety of ways, clear-cut ownership may get lost amidst the grey legal areas surrounding the virtual world. The question becomes where does the developers right to the software providing the content end and where does the VR providers right to the software empowering the users experience with such content begin?

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