Enterprising Minecraft Player Could Be at Risk

October 14, 2010 -

Minecraft has already become a super successful indie game, with estimates that the title’s creator Markus Persson has already banked millions off of the game. While some players have garnered attention for the incredible items built within the game, those users, unfortunately, could be putting themselves in the path of a lawsuit.

The most awe-inspiring megaobject built in Minecraft has to be the 1:1 scale replica of the Starship Enterprise from Star Trek, which was created by YouTube user halnicholas (aka Halkun).

A post on the Public Knowledge website (thanks TechDirt) states that, “Sadly, under current copyright law, you could go broke for crafting a tribute to your favorite book or movie.”

Public Knowledge writes that the construction of the Enterprise within Minecraft could be considered a “derivative work,” which means that “it is protected by the same copyright that protects Star Trek: The Next Generation.”

A sampling of what Halkun could face:

Viacom owns the Star Trek copyright.  If they decide to sue Halkun, the fact that he spent 10 (or 100) hours making his replica, that it’s made out of digital blocks, or that he doesn’t plan to make money on it may or may not protect him. Either way, in order to find out, he would have to hire a legal team to go up against Viacom.  That’s a hard (not to mention expensive) way to find out that your USS Enterprise model does not infringe on anyone’s copyright.

Public Knowledge also warns Minecraft players that copyrightable objects built on your server by other players could put you at risk: “In that case, you could be sued for secondary infringement just for running the server that contains this ‘infringing’ content.”
 
Gamers were further advised to “be aware that US copyright law is more behind the times than you might imagine.”


Comments

The munificence of Paramount

I can understand the legal concerns for this matter, especially given the examples cited above -- but how many of them relate to Paramount?  They have been exceedingly generous in allowing unofficial uses of Star Trek properties.  Look at how many Star Trek fan productions exist, including the excellent Star Trek: Phase II series, or the Of Gods and Men feature film.  It would be a vast departure from their past practices for Paramount to pursue this Minecraft creation.

Re: Enterprising Minecraft Player Could Be at Risk

I doubt like hell anybody is going to waste time and money pursuing this. It's made of stone. There is no warp core. There is no holodeck. At best, it's going to sit there until a creeper blows the shit out of it.

Re: Enterprising Minecraft Player Could Be at Risk

Either I'm not getting a joke or you're not getting the point.  Something doesn't have to be functional to violate a copyright or trademark.

 

Re: Enterprising Minecraft Player Could Be at Risk

To put it as simply as I can, they do it because they can.

Re: Enterprising Minecraft Player Could Be at Risk

 That was done in Classic/Creative mode, where there's no mobs (friendly or hostile entities) and no crafting, just making stuff out of cubes.

Re: Enterprising Minecraft Player Could Be at Risk

This doesn't really make sense, even if current copyright law is "behind the times". They may be thinking of similar copyright scares that happened in LittleBigPlanet and DMCA takedowns that happen on Youtube all the time, but LBP automatically shares created levels with the game community and Youtube is public from the start.

Neither of these apply to Minecraft: the user makes their own stuff and it's (usually) not publically available. The user's creation exists either on their local machine, disconnected from the outside world, or on a semi-private multiplayer server. It's not yet possible to find "public" Minecraft servers unless you A. know the server's IP address or B. have some tool that can scan the entire internet for servers that are listening for a Minecraft multiplayer connection. That being said, I liken Minecraft to being equivalent to a workshop in someone's basement where they make models as a hobby.

Let's try a thought experiment. A guy has a hobby of making models of famous TV, movie and/or gaming icons, symbols or whatever he fancies out of PVC and cardboard. He works tirelessly to make the most awesome model of the Enterprise from Star Trek from just PVC and cardboard that anyone has ever seen. It's so fantastic, it doesn't even look like PVC and cardboard: it somehow magically looks like the real ship model from the TV show. He's that good.

Now, he wants to show off his work, so he makes a video of it and shares it on Youtube. He's not selling the model or expecting hits on the video to make him any kind of compensation: he's just showing off.

Does the Youtube video itself constitute a violation of copyright? Is there a level of detail required to make that assertion or would it apply to all likenesses of the original work?

Maybe I'm simplifying the matter, but in the absence of more definable limits, especially in the case of this unfinished game for which legal ramifications have probably not yet been considered by the game's creator, that's the only way I can understand content created by the game's players.

Of course, that won't prevent a big company from trying. Whether a work in Minecraft is considered derivative or not, it seems the legal test hasn't yet been applied, and the only way to perform that test is for someone to sue someone else. With the popularity of Minecraft, I think it's only a matter of time before someone does.

For the time being, hoping copyright holders won't mind is about the only thing we have going for us when we want to make something that pays homage to their intellectual property with our own hands (or Pickaxes). For a lot of fan creations, this has worked out, and I should hope it continues to hold true for people's creations in MC.

Or one could be a pessimist with no backbone and choose to create nothing, leaving them totally safe from harm. Good luck with that.

Re: Enterprising Minecraft Player Could Be at Risk

US copyright law still thinks we live in the 18th century. And the current brass intends to bring us even further backwards.

Re: Enterprising Minecraft Player Could Be at Risk

Actually, it is the opposite.

 

In 18th century, copyright law only purpose was to prevent someone from selling your work without permission. The mentioned Chrono something would fit here.

Currently, the US (mostly...) is twisting the copyright laws to favour corporations, with ridiculously long terms (originally it was 20 years, something reasonable when it was that long that took to an author/artist/scientist to make a new work, now it is 95 years. 95 years AFTER the author death, so you can put there the 70 years that someone lives too...), fair use restrictions, DMCA (that among other things allow you to arrest scientists that proved that your DRM is broken...), first sale restrictions (via DMCA... stuff that allow companies for example to ban you from your single-player game for cheating, or preventing you from selling the game you bought earlier...), and lawsuits against consumers (there was no such thing of suing someone that got a pirated good, copyright law only allowed to sue someone that was sharing pirated stuff... in fact you can see that most of the rulings against consumers, is because they used P2P software, thus technically sharing too, even if they don't knew it).

In the 18th century nothing of that bullshit existed, the point of the copyright law there was to incentive work, currently it only incentive monopolies (it is a long theory and my mother is calling, I may explain later).

--- Maurício Gomes twitter.com/agfgames

--- Maurício Gomes twitter.com/agfgames

Re: Enterprising Minecraft Player Could Be at Risk

If this is the case then there are a TON of other palces at risk.

For instance I saw images of Iron Man for sale at comic con(purchased a print myself) so by this logic anyone who creates a fan work of anything can be sued.

Re: Enterprising Minecraft Player Could Be at Risk

Anyone who creates a fan work of anything CAN be sued.  But in most cases, companies choose not to sue their fans.

Strictly speaking, if a comics artist draws a sketch of Iron Man and sells it from his website, that's a copyright violation -- but Marvel has the good sense not to sue professional comics artists, as that would create a severe backlash among the people who make their comics.

There are examples of copyright holders cracking down on fan works -- someone already mentioned Chrono Resurrection -- and there are also examples of them being more flexible.  Back to the Marvel example, they could have sued Peter Bagge for his unauthorized Incorrigible Hulk story -- but instead they bought it from him and published it.  Similarly, in the recent story of the guy who used Kanye West's tweets to caption New Yorker cartoons, either Kanye or the magazine could have demanded they be taken down, but instead both content owners loved the mashups and linked to them approvingly.

But the truth is, anyone who's ever written a fanfic or drawn fan art IS engaging in a copyright violation -- and the only reason they don't get sued is the copyright holders choose not to sue them.

Re: Enterprising Minecraft Player Could Be at Risk

Usually because it would be a PR disaster.

Re: Enterprising Minecraft Player Could Be at Risk

Time for servers outside the USA?

Re: Enterprising Minecraft Player Could Be at Risk

You've got to be kidding me.  They're not going to go after anyone for recreating an iconic emblem in Minecraft, any more than they would sue someone for making a real-life version out of Lego.

This gives me a deliciously wicked idea, though.  Next time I get a nametag in TF2, I'm using it to title one of my weapons the "Doritos Ultimate Zesty Flavour Blaster".  Either they embrace me and hold my publicity aloft for the world, or they embroil me in a furious storm of legal injunctions, bringing me to the forefront of the man vs. corporation battle.  It's win-win!

---
Fangamer

---
Fangamer

Re: Enterprising Minecraft Player Could Be at Risk

Tell that to the Chrono Resurrection team.

Re: Enterprising Minecraft Player Could Be at Risk

Leaving aside my personal feelings on how the C:R situation should've been handled, recreating an artistic interpretation of a spaceship and straight-up hacking a video game are two entirely different things.  Good strawman, tho.

---
Fangamer

---
Fangamer

Re: Enterprising Minecraft Player Could Be at Risk

Chrono Resurrection wasn't a hack. It was a total 3D remake of a 2D game.

Re: Enterprising Minecraft Player Could Be at Risk

then lets go back further to 2000 and look at the dozens of now long defunct Dragonball Z mods that existed for FREE, as well as a number of starwars ones.

to boot, they shutdown a bunch of plain fanart sites, no sales, no pitches, just C&D orders because the licensing company didn't like the competition to their own games/sites

Re: Enterprising Minecraft Player Could Be at Risk

Actually, Lucasarts has no problem permitting or even endorsing starwars mods (Galactic Conquest mod for BF: 1942 was officially endorsed by Lucasarts) so long as they: a) Make it a quality mod b) Do not sell it and c)Do not use the original musical score in any way, shape, or form.

Re: Enterprising Minecraft Player Could Be at Risk

Hrm.

I imagine people who run public servers and have other people create copyrighted works in their space would be covered under the safe harbor provision provided they respected DMCA takedown notices sent to them.

People who put their own work up as a server though would be at risk.

 
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