RE: materials the user can alter

From: Cumbow,Robert-SEA <CUMBR[_at_]perkinscoie.com>
Date: Thu, 05 Sep 96 17:17:00 PDT

Greg Yukl wrote:
>
> Suppose someone writes some sort of computer based starship combat
> game ... that ... does not use any copyrighted terms
> or images but does allow the user to easily change the terms and images
> used in the game. For example, the programer might call a weapon system
> a "laser gun", which a user could change to a "phaser" (a "Star Trek"
> term, the copyright to which is held by somebody) to give the game a
> "Star Trek" feel. Would the programmer be in violation of copyright
> for producing and distributing this game?

Mere use of the term "phaser," without more, could not violate anyone's copyright. Copyright, which protects original works of authorship, cannot extend to single words, nor even to short phrases such as titles. If Paramount claims they own a "copyright" in the word "phaser," someone's BS'ing. Trademark, maybe ... but not copyright. And I kinda doubt trademark, too.

Now if your hypothetical programmer starting using SEVERAL words and phrases from STAR TREK, enough so that actual copyrightable works of authorship (such as characters, plotlines, or the look and feel of the show) started to be infringed, there might be a problem. But my belief is that your programmer would have to go a lot farther down the line than changing "weapon" to "phaser" to be in any danger. Not legal advice, and if this is a real rather than hypothetical situation, consuolt an intellectual property attorney for an analysis of the relevant facts.

Bob Cumbow
<cumbr[_at_]perkinscoie.com> Received on Fri Sep 06 1996 - 00:26:09 GMT

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