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11 Dec 2013

Free Legal Sources Every Indie Developer Should Know About

I know, I know, this is yet another post with legal advice. I’ve said it numerous times in my last two legal-themed posts (“The Four Types of Intellectual Property Protection” and “Protecting Your Ideas via Non-Disclosure Agreements”), yet as I have also said in last week and this week’s legal-themed posts, indie developers need to know how to utilize the law to their advantage. It’s central to protecting your livelihood as a whole. You do not want anyone stealing your great ideas, right? Of course not! You work hard indie developer, so protect yourself at all costs!

Consider this post the finale in my trilogy of ‘recent gaming-focused legal’ posts (although more will likely return in the future). To end it, I’m including a few free legal resources that are ideal for indie developers to take advantage of. Use these resources to your advantage, and do your part to protect yourself and your overall livelihood.

Note: Since every country handles copyright, trademark, and patent laws differently, there is no way I am able to list every country-specific resource in this article. Thus, the resources in this article are for U.S. based indie developers only. If you have specific questions regarding your country, ask in the comments below and I will try my best to answer them or will direct you to a proper resource where you can obtain more information.


Search trademarks and patents before you begin working on your game

Let’s assume you have an awesome name for a game. It’s clever and everyone that hears the name of it gets a smile on their face and proclaims, “I love it.” Good for you, that’s great news. Yet, you need to ensure that you are not infringing on any properties before you begin seriously working on your game.

Conduct searches via the U.S. Trademark Office’s Trademark Electronic Search System (TESS) to ensure the name of your game and other aspects of your game are not trademarked in any way. And after conducting the search you still have some doubt as to whether or not a part of your game is trademarked? As has been stated in my previous legal posts, consult an attorney in your area. Consulting with an attorney is of course not free, but it could save you a lawsuit in the future.


Yet before you do? Know about New Media Rights (more about them later).


Search for copyrights

The next place you should visit is the U.S. Copyright Office (USPTO). Conduct a search for copyright records that are related to your in-progress indie game. In addition, using this resource can also be helpful whenever you want to license work from another party to make certain the party actually owns the IP rights being licensed. In short, using this resource can save your bacon in a few different ways, so keep it in mind.


Securities and Exchange Commission

If you have ever thought about expanding your indie studio and raise capital, you need to be familiar with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). It can be confusing, but luckily there is a free resource that explains a few ways in which you can grow your studio, raise capital, and all that jazz. Take a look here for some helpful information, and plan ahead by getting informed.


Visit your local Secretary of State’s website

Thinking about forming your own indie studio? Have a name already picked out? Hold on, because you need to visit your local Secretary of State’s website for a little more information. Check the website, find the jurisdiction you are in, and make certain that the name you want to use is not already being used. For example, if you wanted to use the name ‘Rabid Tiger Games’ for your studio and someone in your jurisdiction already has the name? You could be in a lot of trouble if you started developing games using that name.

The same goes for acronyms you may use (RTG in the example above). In short, check with your local Secret of State’s website and do your part to visit their office before forming your studio. Ensure you have an original name before you form your studio, and save yourself a ton of headache later.


Know about New Media Rights

New Media Rights is awesome. They know that indie creators likely do not have the budget for hiring attorneys before they begin developing a game, forming a studio, etc., so they exist for one sole purpose: to provide free legal services to indie developers, filmmakers, musicians, and a lot more. According to their website, here are a few of the services these guys provide for free:

  • A pre-release review of your game to ensure there is no copyright or trademark issues.
  • Writing Terms of Use and Privacy Policies for your game.
  • Educational instruction on user privacy, trademark issues, data aggregation, and more.
  • Writing and reviewing contracts.
  • Aid with DMCA takedowns of your game.
  • Aid with cease and desist letters for trademark and copyright infringement.

There are also many different articles and guides to help you to navigate the problems indie creators run into on a regular basis. It’s a great resource to have, so have a look and feel free to ask them any questions you may have.

Knowledge of the law is imperative to ensure you have to deal with as little headache as possible. Nothing can kill productivity like dealing with issues concerning copyright infringement, trademark disputes, and more. Thus, be proactive: use these resources that are freely available to you, and be prepared so you do not have to deal with the law later!

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