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Nova’s Pool-Cue Game Mechanics Not Protectable by U.K. Copyright

Categories: Copyright CasesDecisions

Text of Decision , HTML version, RTF Version (UK Court of Appeal – March 14, 2007)
Text of Decision , HTML version, RTF Version (England & Wales High Court – Chancery Division – January 20, 2006)

In what seems to be little more than another “look and feel” decision specific to the video game industry, the U.K. Court of Appeal upheld a prior Chancery Division decision ruling against Nova Productions in finding, yet again, that general ideas behind computer games, or in this case specific game mechanics, and other programs are not protectable under U.K. copyright:

“Merely making a program which will emulate another but which in no way involves copying the program code or any of the program’s graphics is legitimate,”

In this case, the court found no copyright in the “imagery” relating to either: (i) lines of dots indicating the direction of a pool shot; or (ii) an “in-time” mechanic that permits the player to alter the power of a simulated pool shot by timing the shot relative to a pulsing power level – see the images in the Annexes of the HTML version of the Chancery Division decision. Providing similar, but different, “imagery” to depict the same game mechanic idea is not infringing.

In the words of Lord Justice Jacob, when handing down the Court of Appeal decision:

“A series of drawings is a series of graphic works, not a single graphic work in itself. No-one would say that the copyright in a single drawing of Felix the Cat is infringed by a drawing of Donald Duck. A series of cartoon frames showing Felix running over a cliff edge into space, looking down and only then falling would not be infringed by a similar set of frames depicting Donald doing the same thing. That is in effect what is alleged here.”

In the Chancery Division decision, Mr. Justice Kitchen concluded that while the competitive games were inspired by Nova’s Pocket Money, no substantial part of the work was reproduced and therefor, no copyright infringement occurred.

“The ideas that Mazooma have taken have nothing to do with the skill and effort expended by the programmer. They do not constitute the form of expression of the computer program for Jackpot Pool. They are generalised ideas at a high level of abstraction. The features taken collectively or separately do not amount to a substantial part of the program.”

Justice Jacob’s Court of Appeal conclusions provide a particularly apt summary of the limited scope of copyright protection as applied to the video game industry:

“….Both sides submitted that this case had significance for the computer games (and computer program writing) industry. Mr Howe submitted that if the decision below is upheld there is no effective protection for games against copying of the game where a party copies the rules of a game but not its graphics. Mr Carr submitted that that not all things are covered by copyright, that most if not every work is, to some extent, influenced or derived from other works. So it is very important that copyright is not allowed to intervene to stifle the creation of works that are actually very different, as the individual games are here.

I agree with Mr Carr. If protection for such general ideas as are relied on here were conferred by the law, copyright would become an instrument of oppression rather than the incentive for creation which it is intended to be. Protection would have moved to cover works merely inspired by others, to ideas themselves.”

Other High Court Decision Commentary: Out-Law.com | TwoBirds.com | Davis LLP | SportandTechnology.com | Mondaq | EDRI.org

Other Chancery Division Commentary: IPKat | Clintons | Out-Law.com | IPRights

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