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Modifying content of dubious copyright

 
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planetphillip
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PostPosted: Fri Jul 02, 2010 8:55 am    Post subject: Modifying content of dubious copyright Reply with quote

Hi,

I'll try and be as brief as possible but I feel that it's important to explain the exact circumstances.

Back in 2003 a computer game beta called Half-life 2 was leaked onto the Internet. As with all betas it was unfinished and barely playable.

The developer, Valve Software, vigorously pursue the hackers and eventually caught them. The actual leaked content was never used in the final retail game and numerous uses of it have been found in the gaming community. Apparently only the source code is actively protected, although Valve have never made a public statement nor attempted to prosecute anybody using the content.

Eventually one modding team managed to modify the beta content to work with the retail game.

I run a website that lists and reviews community made maps and modifications for this game and recently posted a mod that uses the beta content converted by the other team but used without permission.

I was contacted by the team that converted the content and asked to remove the other mod. I did this while I investigated further.

There is no doubt that the mod uses the converted content, nor do they deny this. There claim is that since the content is copyrighted to the game developer that the other team doesn't have the right to say who can and can't use it.

I am unclear on the legal aspect and would love to hear what you think is the case. Morally, I believe the first time has some right to who uses their work because apparently it too a lot of effort to convert the content.

Are there any precedents I could use to help me?

I doubt anybody will sue me or the second mod but what would the outcome be do you think?

TIA
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AndyJ
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PostPosted: Fri Jul 02, 2010 6:43 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

First of all, if all you did was host some of the disputed content for review purposes, and you removed it immediately you were contacted by the alleged owner of the copyright, you are on pretty safe ground right now because of the so-called 'safe harbor' (American spelling) provisions which can be found in both the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act and the UK Electronic Communications (EC Directive) Regualtions 2002.
But to go back to your original point, it would seem that regardless of whether the original beta version of the game was ever formally released to the public or not, copyright in that code still belongs to Valve Software, and if they chose to go after the leakers one assumes they take the issue of intellectual property rights seriously.
The fact that there are still rogue copies of the original beta around and that someone else has improved the code does not alter the fact that legally they need the permission of the copyright owner (Valve) to create a derivative game which I assume is substanially based on the original beta code. Failiure to obtain permission makes the new game an infringing copy and the developers of the new version have no rights to copyright in the new game as long as it is an infringing copy. So while that means you could ignore their request to remove their game from your site, if you did re-instate the game to your site this would put you in the position where you could possibly be sued by Valve for secondary infringement of Valve's original program by publishing the new (infringing) game of your site. You would no longer be protected by the safe harbor rules because you were now aware of the infringing material on your site.
As with sampling music, the amount of case law on this area of copyright is pretty small, and until a few high profile cases get to the courts, the exact intrepretation of how mods and other software which relies on certain features of the parent game or program fits into the current law framewoork is uncertain. Certainly in the hardware world there is plenty of examples where items such as unbranded spare parts for cars have been found not to infringe either the patents or design rights of the car manufacturers, even though these parts clearly need to meet the same specifications and tolerances as the OEM parts.
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planetphillip
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PostPosted: Fri Jul 02, 2010 6:53 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks for the reply.

I'm not worried about being sued by Valve at all, as the content (not the code) is available all over the place. In fact, I host the mod from the original team and other leaked content, because Valve doesn't seem to care.

I'm more interested in ascertaining whether the first team has any "right" to request files with the leaked content that they modified be removed.

I decided to remove it because I feel that without any legal decision I must rely on my morals and in this case I feel they should have some say.

I just don't like being bullied into making a decision.
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AndyJ
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PostPosted: Fri Jul 02, 2010 9:17 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

As I indicated in my previous reply, I don't think the team who have modified the code can legitimately claim copyright on their work because, from what you say, it is substantially based on the Valve code which they don't have Valve's permission to copy. Whether or not Valve wish to do anything about that is obviously up to them. However, assuming Valve don't want to do anything about it, in my opinion, the law says that this copy cannot be eligible for copyright, so you are in a strong position if you want to defy the request to remove the game from your site. The game developers will need to substantiate their claim to copyright if they want to threaten you with court action, although as ever it would ultimately be the court which would decide the issue and that would be an expensive business for the developers (and you) should it ever happen.

Last edited by AndyJ on Sat Jul 03, 2010 6:59 am; edited 1 time in total
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planetphillip
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PostPosted: Fri Jul 02, 2010 9:31 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thank you, I appreciate your time in replying to me.
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