Monday, July 6, 2009

Copyright or wrong: Generics takin' on the copyright lobby

For those "in the know", Scribblenauts will contain damn near every noun long as said noun fits under a certain set of rules. It has to be concrete or tangible, for one. Concepts which masquerade as nouns, such as "love" or "blue" or what have you, will most likely not be in. Beyond that, there are also no vulgar words (to keep the ESRB rating low), no proper nouns, and no copyrighted words.

However, that last rule is not as clear as you might think. Though we're obviously not going to see "Pepsi" or the like in the game, there are some words which tend to skate around the issue. In this post I plan on looking at "generic" words that people might not know are copyrighted. I'll use my legal prowess (full disclosure: I have absolutely no legal prowess to speak of and I plan on citing Wikipedia as my source) to go through a few items and determine if we might be seeing them in the game.

Verdict: Most likely not

It might surprise some people to know that aspirin is actually a copyrighted word by Bayers, those guys better known for those "hey, want to NOT die of a heart attack? Try out product!" commercials. Aspirin is the very definition of the "gray area" I spoke of above.

See, in America, the courts deemed the word too generic to be copyrighted and Bayers lost the rights to the trademark. But elsewhere? Still copyrighted. This includes places such as Canada and a few countries in Europe. Because Scribblenauts is getting a world-wide release it's not hard to imagine they're going to be more than a little mindful of international copyright law prior to releasing the game. And because the copyright does exist in Canada, that rules out the North American localization having a "special" item. Looks like headaches everywhere will go Scribblenauts, that is.

Verdict: Probably in

Yep, that item you find on basically any pair of pants used to be trademarked way back in the 1920s. Actually, the name "zipper" refereed to the product which originally made use of said contraption, but people eventually came to associate the word with the interlocking teeth themselves, causing the term to lose copyright as it was a generic term.

Of course, one might wonder what exactly you'd use a zipper for in the game, or even how it'd be represented. But I guess that's a job for the developers, not the legal department. From my vantage point, it seems there's nothing legally barring zipper from being in the game. Just make sure it's zipped.

Verdict: Definitely not

Have you and your friends ever tossed the ol' frisbee around during a cool summer evening? Actually, you haven't ever done that, you liar! You HAVE tossed the ol' flying disk, and yes, perhaps at one point you used a Frisbee flying disk.

Yep. Frisbee is trademarked and a proper noun, and despite being commonly used to refer to any flying disk (assuming they are not alien owned or operated), it's still protected. So Maxwell won't be tossin' the ol'...well...alright, you get it by now.

Still, this does bring up an interesting point, and will probably serve as the basis for my next post on the subject. Though Frisbees are definitely out, "flying disks" most likely are not, and for all intents and purposes, that IS a Frisbee to people. I gotta wonder...will other trademarked and copyrighted words "sneak" into the game via generic terms? Looks like I got some research to do!*

*go back to surfing Wikipedia

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