Post feature Report RSS The Legalities of Modding

Ever wondered if what you're doing is illegal, or if you really will get prosecuted for copying that model? This article should cover most eventualities.

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[page=The Basics]
I won't pretend to be a lawyer, or even to know all the details of what I'm talking about. Even so, being a modder for a few years can give an insight into what you can get away with.

So lets begin.

Firstly your mod is probably (although not always) illegal if:

  • It can be played without buying the original game.
  • You try to sell it or profit from it.
  • You have ripped someone's work without permission.
  • The mod is based on a book without the author's permission.
  • The mod is based on a film or series without permission of the studio/company who made it.

Now that bit is over with, read on to see if something you thought you could get away with may actually be wrong.

[page=Common Misconceptions]
Anybody can make mistakes when trying to create something. I've done it a few times, I'm sure a few other people around here have. So here are a couple of the common thoughts which aren't actually right at all.

Not Profiting
First off, merely not profiting from something does not make you immune from prosecution. If you use some professional, sold music in your mod (even if you paid for the CD) without a proper distribution licence it can get very unpleasant, and the fine is often more than a licence would be.

The Website Disclaimer
I have seen dotted around, specifically on DBZ mod sites, things like the following:

DISCLAIMER

For controversial reasons, if you are now, or ever once were, in any way affiliated with FUNimation or any other related group you CANNOT enter this web site, or any of it's related features, including but not limited to, FTP, HTTP, eMail, etc.. If you enter this site in violation of the above terms you are in violation of code 431.322.12 of the Internet Privacy Act signed by President Bill Clinton in 1995 and therefore CANNOT threaten our ISP(s) or any person(s) or company storing these files, and cannot prosecute any person(s) affiliated with this page, including but not limited to family, friends or individuals who maintain or enter this web site.


This, despite anything you may have heard, means absolutely nothing to the people you target it at.

The Internet Privacy Act 1995 does indeed make it illegal for the people mentioned to enter the site, providing they are not collecting evidence for a legal case. If they were that particular law is discounted and full access can be taken at a public level (i.e. they can't get into your FTP but anything the public can see, they can see). A court order could give them full access.

Also, this would only even begin to work if the site is hosted in the USA where the law is applicable. Host it in Finland for example and it means nothing.

It's Public Domain
Just because the public can see something does not make it public domain. Because something is on the internet does not mean you can copy/paste it freely. Look in the How to Get Away With Stuff section (next) for help on this.

[page=How To Get Away With Stuff]
Of course, breaking laws for a mod is pretty damn stupid to start with, so don't do it. However, if you really must have that picture of Gohan or that uzi model is too good to miss out on then this should help keep you legal.

Get A Lawyer
Even if it's just your family lawyer, make sure one is available. Ask them if you're unsure on anything, and please don't take this guide as being definitive, I can almost guarantee there is at least one big mistake in here. Your lawyer will come in useful for proving you did things, signing forms, witnessing licencing if you ever go that far...

Get In Touch
To begin with, find the copyright holder and ask for permission to use their stuff. Tell them what it's for (your mod, basic details, link to modDB profile) and you can often get a licence to use something for nothing more than giving them a line in the credits. There are certain ways to go about this:

First, check for copyright. If there is no copyright holder information you're still not safe. Look for the name of the creator and get in touch with them. If you can't do that you're still not out of the water. Email the site operator and ask for contact details. If at any point you recieve a "No, you can't use it" then just drop it right there.

If no details are available or you simply can't get in touch with the creator you can use the content, but you must keep your messages and his replies and get a legally valid datestamp on them. One method is printing them out, and mailing them to yourself. Do not under any circumstances open the envelope, since the postmark is legal proof of date. You will need this as evidence you attempted to contact the copyright holder through more than one way. You will also need to say quite clearly wherever the content is used that if the copyright holder contacts you then they can have the content removed regardless of consequences. You must also say several attempts at contacting them were made (this is where your envelope and lawyer come in).

Get Licenced!
If you use a lot of stuff from one place and your mod is really popular (don't do this for a simple free-time mod, please. I really mean it.) then it may be worth getting a licence from whoever's behind what you're using. If you use a lot of music from Linkin Park in your mod, for example, approach their record company with your lawyer (If you don't have one then get one) and see how much a licence for the music would cost. For big corporations or groups this could run into a lot of money, but if you have a big mod licencing maybe one track as your title one should just border affordable, and some in-mod pimpage and a big mention in the credits can chop the prices quite a bit.

If you want to make a standalone modification, it could get interesting since unless the engine is open source you're going to have to licence yourself a game engine. A licence for the Unreal engine for non-corporate purposes is still an impressive sum, so only go standalone if either it's free or you're bordering loopyland.

If you want to join the crowd and make a DBZ mod or a Star Trek mod (Not literally, I mean TV/Film) then give it up right now. The corporations will come down on you like a ton of bricks if they find you, and licences for film or series franchise are literally hundreds of thousands. Don't do it, we hate to see mods go down like that.

Comments
Odin1985
Odin1985

is posible to affect ppl in other countries, out site of us?

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BigBird
BigBird

i'm sure that where ever you go, if there's internet, there will be laws for it. and i'm sure that if i (an australian) ripped off some halflife models stuff for my mod and tried selling it, sierra, the us government and the australian government would be on me like a tonne of bricks :s

good artilce btw jacko, clearing up issues with copyright and the like for whom who know not of the correct ways fo obtaining the correct permissions...

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lost_soul
lost_soul

mate half this mods probably all have riped off work.... any thx for that...

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jacksonj04 Author
jacksonj04

bedlum09:
This is indeed the land of the free. I will now proceed to steal your mod's concept, artwork, and anything else I can find. I like the look of the website too, so I'll nick that design...

Anyone:
I agree a lot of mods have broken various laws, I know a couple I work in have done. This is just to give people an idea what they can and can't do. I couldn't care less if what you did was illegal, but seeing a mod go under forstupid reasons like this is pointless.

End Rant

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Scoteh
Scoteh

Bah, to be quite honest its hard not to be 'influenced' by copyrighted things. For example mod names, so what if a mod is named after something else, theres only so many names to go around. And if people wanna make a mod of a tv programme i dont see the problem if theyre not making a profit....

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Turtle
Turtle

Oh and since you hate the government so much and don't want to follow its laws, I'll just go rob you blind while killing you, your family, and all your friends. Hey, screw the law right?

I really have to laugh when I see people promoting anarchy, because often the kids that promote it would be the first to die if the world really degenerated.

Copyright laws are there to protect the work that you put into something, since it protects you, it also protects corporations.

The whole misconception that if you're not making it for profit, you're not in any legal trouble is off base. Copyright law only allows fair use in terms of satire, journalism, and academics (there's probably a few more cases too). It basically allows those areas to do their work without having to worry about stepping on anyone's toes. Fair use does not let you use someone else's ideas for your own work, and that includes mods. Whoever controls the intellectual property has a right to say who uses it regardless of profit.

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ShortCutMan
ShortCutMan

The reason why companys don't want you making mods out of things is this: They would make a game, say, about DBZ. You make a mod of it, people will buy the game that your modding and score a free mod thats the same as the paid game! This can lose companys money, and anyway, why don't people come up with their own original ideas?

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Sajt
Sajt

Hey jackson, you forgot the GPL! If it weren't for that, Fniggium wouldn't be standalone :)

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Sajt
Sajt

But I suppose that would take up another article... I mean there are people actually hiring others who are called 'GPL experts' to explain exactly what they can do! In fact, I kind of want one...

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Tei
Tei

It can be played without buying the original game
FALSE, standalone quake
You try to sell it or profit from it.
FALSE, standalone quake
The mod is based on a book without the author's permission.
FALSE, bible games
The mod is based on a film or series without permission of the studio/company who made it.
Maybe

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jacksonj04 Author
jacksonj04

...your mod is probably (although not always) illegal if:

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TAKAVAR
TAKAVAR

yeah right...
sorry , but i i get my host in a ISP provider .. in lemmi say... hmmm MIDDLE EAST . how the **** these big scary companies wanna come and get me?

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lhavelund
lhavelund

Great article. Personally I don't mod, I simply play mods, but this is a nice article. Thumbs up, good job.

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exdeath
exdeath

If a person Make a starwar mod for a starwar game he is braking the laws??? And a doom mod for a doom game?? and a hl mod for a hl game???

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djfrogstar
djfrogstar

What about if you sell a t shirt with a graphic from your mod ...and you just use the mod to promote the tshirt....is that illegal?

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The_Finisher
The_Finisher

Correction:2005

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The_Finisher
The_Finisher

Dude, copyright laws are there for a reason, yeah, but a lot of the laws that make up that law are total bs. See, stealing people's work is wrong. Making a profit off of stolen work is wrong. But if you create a mod as an homage to something, give credit to the original idea's creators, and don't profit off of it in any way, I don't see anything at all wrong with that. 1. You're not saying YOU came up with it 2. You made it to honor the original 3. You aren't making any money. Basically, the mod is fan art. If I drew a comic about Batman and put it on the Internet and wasn't making any money or claiming credit for the character and gave credit to Bob Kane and DC (the creator and owner, respectively), it qualifies as fan art. The same should apply to ALL material that fits in this description. (Huh. No one's posted here since 2003.)

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MrMattWebb
MrMattWebb

Awesome read.

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Rigelblast
Rigelblast

This is an interesting article which clearly explains what is legal and what is not in modding.

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Zireael07
Zireael07

The link to this article in ShortCutMan's guide on the forums doesn't work.

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