Free games with copyrighted characters

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Jeremiah Asbury
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Iscritto: 10/30/2013

What exactly is the legality of a free software video game with
copyrighted, proprietary characters? I am a brony, an adult fan of My
Little Pony: Friendship is Magic[1], so I would like to play games
featuring the characters of the series. Unfortunately, the characters
and universe are all proprietary, the copyrights held by Hasbro.

I am thinking of a free software game engine with all the
character/universe data that could be copyrighted by Hasbro released
under a noncommercial license, because they are pretty tolerant of
noncommercial fanart. This idea could also be appropriate for fans of
other proprietary series, such as Star Wars, Star Trek, Doctor Who,
etc.

Is there some "skinnable" free software game where you can add
characters and storylines of the proprietary universe you happen to be
a fan of? In my experience. most of the free culture/free software
games with a storyline just aren't very well written. :-(

Also, would you still consider such a game free software?

[1] http://whatisabrony.com/

Michał Masłowski

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I am a translator!

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Iscritto: 05/15/2010

There are games with free software parts and nonfree data. Here you
will have additional difficulties with redistribution of this data
("noncommercial" is very poorly defined, fair use depends on
jurisdiction, companies sue people regardless of law, etc). Being
"pretty tolerant" is different from giving a license.

Many free games have sufficiently separate engines so you can use them
for a game with different story and art.

I wouldn't consider such a game free (since it doesn't give the user the
freedom to sell copies), while I could like it more than a usual game
with free software and original noncommercial data.

(This reminds me of a nonfree game that I won't ever play, while I
enjoyed reading a fanfic partially based on it.)

JadedCtrl
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Iscritto: 08/11/2014

Well, it'd still be Free Software, regardless of the graphical assets and such- but the free culture aspect could be shakey. There are some that care greatly about keeping their system 100% free culture and free software, so that's something to keep in mind.
The usage of the characters- the legality of doing so- is rather shakey, though.

onpon4
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Iscritto: 05/30/2012

The topic of the legality of fangames has come up a few times recently on another forum I occasionally visit (one centered around fangames). Here's a copy/paste of something I said there (since it's still what I think):

I've said before that I'm not entirely sure about fangames being derivatives of any of Nintendo's works. They might also be considered collections of several different works. I'm still not sure about this.

But if they are considered derivative works, it's important to note that they would typically be derivative works of the graphics, sounds, and music that they're using. For example, the fangame I made a couple years ago isn't a derivative of Super Mario Bros, regardless of any general similarities, because it's not a modification of Super Mario Bros. I and YoYo Games collaboratively wrote the engine (more specifically, YYG wrote part, licensed their part to me, and I added my own portion on top of that), I designed the scenario (levels and cutscenes), and I made use of various images, sound effects, and music which is copyrighted by Nintendo. If it's a derivative, I think it's pretty clear-cut that it would count as fair use; BLS isn't a replacement for these sprites at all. It's not even the same kind of thing as these sprites. Most fangames are like this. Of course there are exceptions; it seems obvious to me that Mari0 is a derivative work of Super Mario Bros, for example, because it makes an effort to perfectly duplicate that game's scenario and engine. But most fangames just use the visuals and sounds; they're not copying entire Nintendo games.

Jeremiah Asbury
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Iscritto: 10/30/2013

There was a (non-free) game featuring MLP characters called Fighting
is Magic that got a cease and desist notice from Hasbro. They had to
"genericize" the game. It is called Mane6 now. That's something
frustrating about resolving to run only free software and be a fan of
a proprietary work. You can't really make a free replacement for a
creative work.

I would liken my idea to a non-free desktop theme, or even a non-free
desktop background. I have no problem with it at all as long as they
are cleanly separated.

lembas
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Iscritto: 05/13/2010

I believe it's a grey area. So what happens entirely depends on the copyright holder. They can disappear your work any time. On the other hand copyrights unlike patents haven't got any defend or lose it clause so they could ignore it too. Often this is what the do until some work gains popularity...

I personally wouldn't put any effort to something like this. It's building on quick sand.

This article should be useful but I haven't read it https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Legal_issues_with_fan_fiction

Calinou
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Iscritto: 03/08/2014

> Is there some "skinnable" free software game where you can add characters and storylines of the proprietary universe you happen to be a fan of? In my experience. most of the free culture/free software games with a storyline just aren't very well written. :-(

Xonotic has various custom player models, and that includes ponies, made by Taoki/MirceaKitsune. He also made pony characters that are licensed under CC0.

> You can't really make a free replacement for a creative work.

It depends whether you get attached to stuff or not; if not, there are lots of examples to prove you wrong. ;)

t3g
t3g
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Iscritto: 05/15/2011

1.) Release game engine under a free license.
2.) Artwork and multimedia behind a paywall.

Neither can work without the other and the software remains free. Profit.

Magic Banana

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Iscritto: 07/24/2010

The artwork can be behind a paywall. The game engine too: https://www.gnu.org/philosophy/selling.html

But, to respect the users' essential freedoms:

  • The game engine must be free: https://gnu.org/philosophy/free-sw.html
  • The artwork must be (at least) freely sharable (not letting the user modify it is not an attack on her essential freedoms).
lloydsmart

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Iscritto: 12/22/2012

I don't agree that the artwork must be freely sharable. Same goes for allowing the user to modify. Artwork is not software. The four software freedoms don't apply.

This is in keeping with both the letter and the spirit of software freedom. The reason software freedom is so important isn't just so we can all share cool art gratis - it's so that we can know at all times what our computers are doing, and that they are truly being controlled by the user, rather than the user being controlled by the software. Art (and data) cannot control the user, only programs can do that.

I think a perfectly good system of distribution would be to make game engines libre and freely distributable (e.g. GPL) and to have the "game data" (artwork) copyrighted and behind a paywall.

In the recent example we've seen with a hospital-style game (can't remember the name now) there was a problem with the software being used to distribute the artwork being proprietary, which was a problem even though there was a free implementation of the game engine. However, this was just an unfortunate circumstance, and needn't necessarily be the case for other games. Developers could very easily create software distribution platforms that aren't proprietary.

Calinou
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Iscritto: 03/08/2014

Don't imply “copyrighted” is non-free or not shareable. The GPL is a copyright license and it is free.

lloydsmart

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Iscritto: 12/22/2012

Good point. Substitute "copyrighted" for non-free. Point still stands, though.

Magic Banana

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Iscritto: 07/24/2010

Artwork is not software. The four software freedoms don't apply.

Not all four freedom apply (as I wrote: artwork need not be modifiable) but freedom 2 should still apply with the same rationale as for software: (non-commercial) sharing is good and should never be forbidden. As rms would say ( https://www.gnu.org/philosophy/google-engineering-talk.html#freedom-2-moral-dilemma ):

The most essential resource of any society is the spirit of good will, the willingness to help your neighbor; not necessarily every time you're asked, but fairly often. This is what makes the difference between a livable society and a dog-eat-dog jungle. This spirit is not going to be 100% and it's not going to be zero, but it's going to be somewhere in between -- and cultural actions can influence it, can raise it or lower it. And it's essential to work to raise it some, because that makes life easier for everyone. So it's no accident that the world's major religions have been encouraging this spirit of good will for thousands of years.

So what does it mean when powerful social institutions say that it's wrong to share? They're poisoning this vital resource, something no society can afford. Now what does it mean when they say that if you share with your neighbor, you're a pirate? They're saying that helping your neighbor is the moral equivalent of attacking a ship. Well, nothing could be more wrong than that. Attacking ships is very, very bad; helping your neighbor is good.

And what does it mean when they establish harsh punishments for anyone caught sharing? How much fear do you think it's going to take before everyone's too scared to help his neighbor? And do you want that terror campaign to go on in our society? I hope that the answer is no. We need to abolish the war on copying that is being imposed on our society. We need to say, loud and clear, "copying and sharing with your neighbor is good, it's legitimate, and laws that prohibit this are wrong."

So that's the reason for Freedom 2; it's essentially an ethical reason. You can't live an ethical life if you don't have Freedom 2.

lloydsmart

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Iscritto: 12/22/2012

The user is free to obtain the artwork legally from the original supplier. Applying freedom 2 to non-functional data is absurd and makes it impossible for the original artist to earn the appropriate amount of profit for their work. The profit earned should be directly proportional to the number of people using that work.

We need freedom 2 for software for various reasons such as making code publicly available for audit, passing the code to a developer to improve on our behalf, etc. We do not need it for non-functional data such as artwork because that data does not affect the way our computers work.

If the original artist does not decide to allow others to share their work, that should be respected, and is IMO a totally acceptable position to take. Otherwise much of the motiviation to develop the data in the first place is removed.

Calinou
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Iscritto: 03/08/2014

We ought to find better business models than selling copies of digital works.

t3g
t3g
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Iscritto: 05/15/2011

Or work in a factory or do construction.

Jabjabs
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Iscritto: 07/05/2014

That's what I do. :D

Magic Banana

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Iscritto: 07/24/2010

Applying freedom 2 to non-functional data is absurd

Are you writing that rms' arguments are absurd? I do not see anything specific to "functional data" in his justification for freedom 2 (in my previous post).

The profit earned should be directly proportional to the number of people using that work.

Why? The cost of production is not "directly proportional to the number of people using that work". A digital copy costs nothing (well, almost nothing: a little bit of electricity). Economically, its cost should be 0.

Jeremiah Asbury
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Iscritto: 10/30/2013

I found a pony Minetest server, so I found at least one pony-related
thing I can do.
Thanks for your help!