I just recently watched an interview on how big the game Fornite has become. There are currently around 40 million players worldwide, and Epic Games had $296 million in revenue in the month of April alone. Those numbers are staggering considering the game was released only about a year ago. So, with such crazy revenues what keeps other companies from capitalizing on similar games, and gaming concepts?
 
PlayerUnknown’s Battleground (“PUBG”) introduced a battle royale game before Epic released Fortnite. The Korean Times reports that PUBG is alleging that Epic has infringed its copyrights and has filed a lawsuit in Korea. There are currently no other details released on this case, but let’s look at how video games can be protected under Copyright law here in the United States. Copyright Law protects the economic value of video games by making sure the creator, in this case Epic Games, has the right to sell, duplicate, and make related merchandise from the game’s images, characters, code, dialogue, or any other piece of original work included within the game.
 
Video Game Copyright Protection
Copyright law in the U.S. is based on the Copyright Act of 1976, a federal statute that went into effect in 1978. States cannot enact their own laws to protect the same rights protected under the Copyright Act. Copyright law is important for video game developers because it protects the original works created, and gives the copyright owner the exclusive right to control unauthorized exploitation of their games. In addition, Copyright law provides protections to a video game developer’s works which can be any combination of the following: music, text, graphics, illustrations, code, photographs, and software. Others must avoid the developers copyrighted works or risk the possibility of being sued in Federal court for infringement. So, no one can legally use, duplicate, or sell the video game, or make a new game that uses its original works without the permission of the copyright owner.
 
When the video game developer sells its video game to a player, it license that player the right to use that game within the terms that the developer has set forth. This license is usually included within the license agreement set forth by the developer that is included with every game, or software that is purchased. You don’t actually own the game or software, but are buying a license to use that game or software. Licenses differ from developer to developer, such as some developers will allow the gamers to take screen shots and post them online, while others will not. That is why it is critical to read the license agreements before posting anything from the game online.
 
Going back to PUBG v. Epic Games, PUBG can only sue Epic for any original works that they have created such as characters, code, or graphics. PUBG cannot sue Epic for the battle royale game idea. The idea of 100 individuals being dropped into a scenario and the last person standing wins cannot be copyrighted. Game developers and designers are free to use the concept and develop their own characters, graphics, code, etc. around the concept. Game designers are also free to license their games to other individuals or companies, and they are still protected by copyright laws.