Tetris and Intellectual Property Rights: Copyright

This article is Part IV of a series that elucidates the issues surrounding iPhone Tetromino games, Intellectual Property Law, and the Tetris Company.  The series begins with a reproduction of the Tetris Company’s Cease and Desist Letters. Next, it defines and explains patent, trademark and copyright law. Finally, it concludes with a re-examination of the Tetris Company’s claims of infringement.

Lets begin with the most pertinent piece of information–What Copyright does NOT protect:

Copyright does not protect the idea for a game, its name or title, or the method or methods for playing it. Nor does copyright protect any idea, system, method, device, or trademark material involved in developing, merchandising, or playing a game. Once a game has been made public, nothing in the copyright law prevents others from developing another game based on similar principles. 

So what is copyright, and what does it protect? 

Copyright protects “original works of authorship including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and other intellectual works“. The words in a book, the lyrics to a song, the sequence of notes in a song, and a movie script are copyrightable. I can’t steel these works of art and publish them under my name. 

Computer programs, to an extent, are literary works. The source code of a computer program is copyrightable. What language you use and your architectural decisions are uniquely yours, and can be protected under copyright law. The function of a program, however, is not copyrightable. If the function of a program were copyrightable, we would  be left with one email client, one document processor… one everything, and the world would be a terrible place. 

The Tetris Company and Copyright

The Tetris Company owns a copyright of its source code and of certain audiovisual effects of Tetris. This means that I can’t hack into the Tetris Company’s codebase, and copy-and-paste it into my own program.  Nor can I  steel their music and graphic files and insert them into my program.

However,  I can create my own game (using my own source code, music, and graphics) based on the unpatented Tetris game idea and distribute it publicly. 

Yes, thats right. 





Explore posts in the same categories: Tetris and Falling Block Games, Tetromino Games

2 Comments on “Tetris and Intellectual Property Rights: Copyright”

  1. David Says:

    Thanks for the interesting read, you may be interested to know that last week I completed and submitted a 6 block game similar to tetris that recieved the following rejection notice:

    Thank you for submitting Green Block Game to the App Store. We’ve reviewed Green Block Game and determined that we cannot post your application because it appears to contain features that bear a resemblance to a well-known third-party trademark, Tetris.

  2. Consumer SEA Says:

    What about derivative works? Doesn’t the act imply that protection extends to minor changes of original authorships?

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