Here is the final part of our 3 part series of posts to go over some of the basics of what you need to know about protecting your legal rights for your work.
Liz Surette is an attorney in Massachusetts who helps game studios protect their assets by providing services related to IP, contracts, employment, game content, and business matters. She has spoken on VR at the American Bar Association’s Business Law Section annual meeting, organized and moderated the PAX East 2016 legal panel, and written articles featured on Gamasutra and GamePolitics. Email: liz (at) overclockedlegal.com Twitter: @LizOvcLegal
Liz’s disclaimer: My answers to these questions are for informational purposes and should not be taken as legal advice. Although I answer some commonly-asked questions below in general terms, you should consult a lawyer about your individual situation because there is no “one size fits all” answer to any legal question. Always have your attorney go over any contract with you before you sign it.
7: Do you have any tips when it comes to licensing assets, whether they are tools or music, etc?
First and foremost, always get written permission from that asset’s owner. There are a lot of details to hammer out when putting that license into writing, and as always you need to be 100% aware of what you’re getting and what you’re giving the owner in return. Be specific in defining exactly what asset you will be using, how you’ll be using it, how you will pay for it, how disputes between you and the licensor will be resolved, what guarantees you and the licensor make to each other about your work, and other points. Depending on who you’re licensing the asset from, these contracts are often negotiable. For more on this subject, you can read my article on music licensing here.
8: With indies often being on limited budgets, do you have any tips on how an indie could go about finding a lawyer and making the most of a potential initial consultation?
It never hurts to reach out to a lawyer, no matter where in the development cycle you are. If you don’t know any lawyers offhand who could either help you or get you started with a referral, a good way to find a lawyer is to contact organizers for your local game development groups. Of course, I’m always around in MA and happy to chat. Before your consultation, you would tell the lawyer a little bit about your situation so they start to get an idea of what issues are at hand. Every attorney does consultations differently, but they’re always for the purpose of getting more information on you and your situation so that we can give you an appropriate fee quote. A lawyer should not be giving actual legal advice about your situation until you’ve both signed a document establishing an attorney-client relationship—so the question is less about making the most of a consultation and more about exchanging information and building a rapport.
If you’re working on a budget, you should still talk to a lawyer because we can often find ways to tailor our services to help you accomplish your goals while still working within your budget. The exact arrangement will heavily depend on the individual situation and the services in question. Legal services do come at a cost, but they’re an investment in the protection of your assets and should be considered part of your overhead.
Also, you should be in touch with a lawyer in case you have what ends up being a time-sensitive issue. If you wait until it’s too late, a lawyer would need to charge you for expedited service if they even had time to take the case at all.
Once your lawyer is retained, don’t be afraid to ask questions and make sure you understand what’s happening. We appreciate your participation and it helps both of you and I know that you’re getting the service you paid for.
9: Any other final thoughts of wisdom?
We’ve covered a lot of good subject matter, and there are many other legal issues that are important to game development such as use of a person’s likeness or voice in a game (like Troy Baker’s mocap and voice in The Last of Us), how to avoid infringing on someone else’s IP, registration of copyrights and trademarks, business entity formation, and more. I know the business/legal aspect of game development is more behind-the-scenes, but it is still vitally important because it helps you avoid problems with development and distribution of the game in the future. It can be daunting, but your lawyer will help you through it. No matter what stage of development you’re in, it never hurts to talk with a lawyer to assess the legalities of your game and studio. Even if you haven’t done anything illegal per se, a lawyer can spot issues that you might have missed and thus save you a lot of trouble down the road. And of course, never sign anything without talking to a lawyer first.
Thanks Liz, for concluding a great Q&A series with your insight into IP, copyright and law in the industry!
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