Where does art inspired by videogames fall under the fair use doctrine? A U.S. Intellectual Property lawyer takes a look at just such a topic in an interesting entry on his blog.
Ben Manevitz centers his article on three pieces of art from Brock Davis, which show interpreted scenes from Dig Dug, Donkey Kong and Missile Command.
The four factors (for the U.S.) for determining fair use are:
1. the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
2. the nature of the copyrighted work;
3. the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted workas a whole;
4. the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.
Manevitz argues that the art in question meets the criteria of points 1 and 4:
The fair use analysis is actually fairly straightforward. You've got a transformative use that will have no impact on the market for the games, or even the potential derivative market for the games. That's factors one and four in favor of fair use.
The author claims that the works do not meet the second factor however:
Admittedly, the game screen is a creative work, which puts factor 2 in the not-fair-use column and it could be argued that the amount taken is substantial - it would depend on the determination of what, exactly, constituted the work; is it the game overall or individual screens.
Manevitz goes on to examine possible trademark implications:
… Atari might be able to argue that a consumer seeing the paintings might be confused as to the source or - in this case the stronger argument - sponsorship of the paintings.
He concludes that game makers might be able to make an “objectively reasonable trademark infringement case against the artist,” before noting that the “saving grace” for the artist might be “the practical factors militating against the manufacturer's bringing suit, to wit, the negative publicity, the paucity of available damages, the relative age (value) of the marks allegedly infringed, etc.”