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US District Court: Game Elements In Tetris Clone Infringe Tetris Co.'s Copyright 138

Posted by timothy
from the there's-a-tetris-company?! dept.
elegie writes "In the US, a District Court has ruled that the Tetris clone "Mino" infringes the Tetris Company's copyrights with regard to elements of the Tetris game design and gameplay. On one hand, a lawyer said that 'a puzzle game where a user manipulates blocks to form lines which disappear' would be noninfringing. At the same time, the Mino game's reuse of such Tetris elements as the dimensions of the playing field and the shape of the blocks constituted infringement. In addition, the Tetris game's artistic elements were not inseparably linked to the underlying mechanics and replicating an underlying idea and/or functionality (which would likely be uncopyrighted) would not justify copying visual expression from an existing game."
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US District Court: Game Elements In Tetris Clone Infringe Tetris Co.'s Copyright

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  • Oh good (Score:5, Funny)

    by jesseck (942036) on Thursday June 21, 2012 @08:56AM (#40396991)
    I'm glad we can make a non-infringing block game, now we just need to figure out how to get those blocks to not infringe.
    • by alen (225700)

      easy, make your own shapes, colors, dimensions and game play. instead of falling have them come in from all directions.

      there have been so many Sim City/Civilization clones over the years and each one has been unique. it just takes a little work

    • So does this mean the "look and feel" decision against Visicorp was in error? This comes about 40 years too late for Dan Bricklin.
    • by nedlohs (1335013)

      The summary tells you what you need to change - just how much spoon feeding do you need?

  • deja vu
  • Not a good precedent (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    The Tetris Co. has been pushing very, very hard for this decision for years, and it's a bad one for everyone except Tetris Co. Where does this begin and end - is Activision going to sue everyone for making a team-based playing-soldiers first person shooter, because it infringes on the Call of Duty copyright? In fact how does this translate to the copyrighting of 'real life' game concepts and other similar idea-based concepts? Are we going to be able to patent games now?

    This is a very, very bad precedent.

    • Not really. You see, Tetris is a very simple game, there's no hidden levels of depth to it. It's blocks falling and you arrange them to make lines that disappear.

      There does not need to be more games involving blocks that fall and need to be arranged into lines so they disappear.

      Call of Duty, though, can have different stories to tell in the campaign, can have different mechanics for weapons, different maps, multiplayer options, squad sizes. There's plenty of scope for the games to be sufficiently different.

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        This!

        I am generally against stupid software IP laws, but really, Tetris was a unique and simple game. Cloning it is blatantly dishonest and taking an extreme shortcut at the expense of the creator and to me really is unacceptable. Just write a new game with new ideas! We would all benefit from that more anyway. I'm ok with cloning certain elements, but not with cloning the core freaking game!

        It's like taking a symphony that you did not write, re-transcribing it on different paper and getting a different

        • by shentino (1139071)

          I would say that it's too simple to qualify for copyright protection in the first place.

          Just by *watching* tetris being played I can write a tetris clone in a single hour of programming, it's not that hard. And I can do it without looking at source code.

          It's trivially easy to reverse engineer even if you don't have source code to look at.

          • by bws111 (1216812)

            Who cares how long it takes to write the code? That is a completely meaningless metric. 'The code' is not what is in question here, 'the game' is. So, answer the proper question 'can you create a new, original game that millions of people around the world will want to play'. If you say 'yes', why haven't you done it?

        • by DannyO152 (544940)

          In orchestral non-vocal music, the melody is the only protectable part of the composition. So at that point, your analogy fails.

          But, just to give everyone a bad analogy to abuse me for: giving protectability to the shapes and grid size is akin to giving protection to an arrangement's choice of the key of F, because that made it easier for the clarinets to perform.

          Based on the linked summary of ruling, it seems the judge was convinced that the grid size constituted expression. However, as explored by Judge

          • by DannyO152 (544940)

            ... not all choices are expressive, merely consequential to the idea, and...

            This would have been better said as "... not all choices are expressive, some are consequential to the idea, and.."

            • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

              by Aighearach (97333)

              ... not all choices are expressive, merely consequential to the idea, and...

              This would have been better said as "... not all choices are expressive, some are consequential to the idea, and.."

              I love these, the Idiot Pedant. lolol

              All you did is remove information, remove the lessening word, and repeat the rest of the claims. So you changed the proportional meaning of the different parts. How is that "better said?" In order for such a change in meaning to be "better said," you would have to have a full understanding of the precise intent of the author. That is impossible from such a small passage.

              Does it make you feel better about living in your mom's basement to show yourself having poor reading

        • Just write a new game with new ideas!

          Yeah! Instead of suing people who make clones of your old game, do something productive and make a new game.

        • Tetris was released June 6, 1984. 28 years ago in the Soviet Union. In fact, the Soviet Union was the original owner of the copyright. It's still stupid IP law.
      • by Gideon Wells (1412675) on Thursday June 21, 2012 @09:39AM (#40397431)

        [quote] You see, Tetris is a very simple game, there's no hidden levels of depth to it. It's blocks falling and you arrange them to make lines that disappear.[/quote]
        Sir, I pray for your soul that no serious Tetris fanatics get a hold of this comment. You do not fathom the degrees and tournament rules they have developed over what is or isn't allowed. Dare I even mention the black market, and underground games? The unlicensed, hard core stacking where two people enter, one person leaves?

        I would recommend that you start packing your bags now and moving to a third world country. I fear they may already be planning for you to wake up with the head of a T block in your bed tomorrow.

      • by Hatta (162192)

        There does not need to be more games involving blocks that fall and need to be arranged into lines so they disappear.

        There does not need to be a monopoly on such games either.

      • There does not need to be more games

        No games need to exist in the first place.

        What you have here is a game that is so similar to Tetris that it is not innovative

        Tetris in itself is not innovative. It's now an old game, and such decisions do nothing to further the alleged original intentions of copyright law.

      • by Obfuscant (592200)

        Call of Duty, though, can have different stories to tell in the campaign, can have different mechanics for weapons, different maps, multiplayer options, squad sizes. There's plenty of scope for the games to be sufficiently different.

        Call of Duty VII: Kill the Lawyers

  • The Real Crime (Score:5, Insightful)

    by cffrost (885375) on Thursday June 21, 2012 @09:01AM (#40397041) Homepage

    The real crime here is that Tetris is still protected under copyright.

    • by Yvanhoe (564877) on Thursday June 21, 2012 @09:10AM (#40397127) Journal
      You say it like copyright was supposed to expire one day...
    • by shentino (1139071)

      Still?

      That simple concept doesn't deserve copyright protection period. I could write a tetris clone in my sleep after watching someone else play it for just 20 seconds.

      This decision basically says that functionality can itself be creative.

      I say bullshit, that's what we have patents for.

      • by bws111 (1216812)

        The real question is not 'could you write such a game after seeing someone play it', but 'could you write such a game having never seen it or had it described to you'. Answering 'yes' to the second question shows creativity, something worthy of protection. Answering 'yes' to only to first question shows some trivial programming skills and no creativity, and is worthy of nothing.

        • No, he could have the rules described to him. Copyright doesn't protect the game rules, just the creative elements that are not necessary for the game.

          Look at how third party manufacturers developed a BIOS that was compatible with the IBM BIOS to facilitate the development of generic IBM PC-compatible computers. One team looked through the BIOS and developed a spec, and the second team implemented the spec without looking at the BIOS. Since nothing protectable was actually copied, copyright infringement was

      • That simple concept doesn't deserve copyright protection period. I could write a tetris clone in my sleep after watching someone else play it for just 20 seconds.

        It's easy to copy. It's a lot harder to come up with something so good yourself.

  • Huh? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by GrahamCox (741991) on Thursday June 21, 2012 @09:01AM (#40397043) Homepage
    shape of the blocks constituted infringement

    That's absurd. The shape of the blocks comes from the fact that those are all the possible 2D geometric arrangements of 4 connected blocks on a grid. If anyone is infringed here, it's basic geometry.
    • by vinehair (1937606)

      I really dislike that part of the ruling as well.

      I also strongly suspect that, magically, this ruling will do nothing to help those poor developers who have been utterly ripped off by Zynga, in several well-known cases like this one. [macgasm.net] Call me cynical, if you will.

      • by alen (225700)

        i played both, there were similarities but Dream Heights had much better art and game mechanics were different

    • Re:Huh? (Score:4, Funny)

      by TheSpoom (715771) <slashdot&uberm00,net> on Thursday June 21, 2012 @09:17AM (#40397219) Homepage Journal

      If anyone is infringed here, it's basic geometry.

      It's The Tetris Company. Don't give them ideas.

    • Not only that, but copyright doesn't cover any of this stuff. Functionality is covered by patent, not copyright. Copyright only the actual physical code. This was established decades ago when Novell sued Microsoft over menus.
      • by chrismcb (983081)
        Copyright covers creations. Artwork, music, code, etc. So while you can make a pacman clone with say rabbits instead of ghosts, you can't make a pacman clone with the same round and yellow player, and with the same maze. In this case they are claiming in the size of the playfield is copyrighted. Apparently "the style of pieces" is also copyrighted, but that seems dubious. They also claim that "same manner in which the pieces move and rotate" is copyrightable. But that sounds a lot like look and feel to me,
  • Why is a court/patent fight still allowed over Tetris? I mean, it's an old game from 19-freaking-84!!! The answer must, as usual, be $$money$$. (from Wikipedia...) Tetris (Russian: ) is a tile-matching puzzle video game originally designed and programmed by Alexey Pajitnov in the Soviet Union. It was released on June 6, 1984, [2] while he was working for the Dorodnicyn Computing Centre of the Academy of Science of the USSR in Moscow. [3] He derived its name from the [Russian] numerical prefix tetra-(all
    • Given that Mickey Mouse is still successfully covered by copyright/patent etc. I think the lawyers for Tetris will argue that they are just following precedence and would like at least another 50 years protection.....

  • A patent protects the functionality of a product. The way the blocks are manipulated in the game is functional.

    Until this is heard on appeal ... there will be a multitude of authors of famous games who will be threatening the copycats under this stupid decision.

    (Oh, and copyrights are worldwide ... this judge has effectively granted the author a game a world-wide patent upon it. Let the games begin!)

    • Right. Unless they're actually using source code from the original to do it. The implications of this kind of decision, if allowed to stand would change the whole landscape of the software industry.
    • (Oh, and copyrights are worldwide ... this judge has effectively granted the author a game a world-wide patent upon it. Let the games begin!)

      No they're not. Copyrights are national, there's just a system of reciprocity in granting them nationally. Remember the thing with Amazon and 1984? That happened because the book was in the public domain in Australia, and copyrighted in the US, due to national differences in copyright law.

      And anyway, copyrights are not patent substitutes. Although this opinion certainly tries to make for one; it's pretty badly done.

  • Are all similar but do not violate the copyright. So there is some hope for similar, non-infringing games.

  • You don't need to break down and analyze which individual details make a Tetris clone a Tetris clone that violates copyright versus a Tetris clone which doesn't; it's quite clear at first glance that Mino is just simply Tetris. I know this sort of thing is a popular debate, and this is hardly the first example of its kind, but the extremely wide range of Tetris clones that survive without legal problems do so because their developers make at least the bare minimum effort to change something fundamental. Not

    • by Hatta (162192)

      it's quite clear at first glance that Mino is just simply Tetris.

      It is, and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that. The party in the wrong here is the one who claims copyright over the set of polygons that can be constructed out of 4 congruent squares. Them, and the court that agreed with them.

      What's next, a copyright claim on the 5 platonic solids?

  • How would this affect Tetrinet?

  • I've seen so many exact Tetris clones that I thought it no longer had any sort of copyright.
  • Alright M-B,

    Sue Zynga over "Words with Friends" again, but this time instead of claiming that they're copying your game, just claim copyright on the letters 'A', 'B', 'C', etc. Want to make a clone? Use Chinese characters or the Greek alphabet or something. No English letters for you!

    • by omnichad (1198475)

      Does Words with Friends use exactly the same game board positions for double,triple letter/word scores as Scrabble? Do they use exactly the same dimensions for their game board? Just curious - I never played. Those are the kind of things we're talking about. Your argument is purely reductio ad absurdum.

      • Yes and No. Words with Friends uses the same board dimensions, the same number of letters, the same scoring. The placement of the bonus blocks is a little different, but the properties of the bonus blocks are identical.

        I think with this precedent, Hasbro could easily go after the multi-million dollar knock-off like Words with Friends. They have a case. The same thing with Taito and their wildly popular game Bust-A-Move which has had a large number of clones ever since it came out. Taito never went after

  • The VISUAL shape of the objects and dimensions of the grid may be copyrightable, but the MATHEMATICAL ones should not be. If there is only one reasonable visual shape that matches the mathematical shape, then it, too, should not be copyrightable.

    Remember Rubik's Cube? There were knock-off puzzles of various shapes including spheres, cubes with the corners cut off, various different color schemes, etc. But they were all mathematically identical to the Rubik's Cube.

    A Tetris-like game with squiggly-snake-sh

  • by cpt kangarooski (3773) on Thursday June 21, 2012 @10:58PM (#40407145) Homepage

    While I'd agree with the court that the clone (Mino) infringes on the Tetris copyright, the analysis that the court used to get there suffers from some defects in its application. Some of this may be due to the parties in the suit, for not raising certain arguments or making them well, but that's really not much of an excuse.

    The court is correct that the Tetris program is not protected in its entirety by copyright, and that one of the key issues in the case is to sort out what is and isn't protected. Basically, copyright protects certain expressions of an idea, but not the underlying idea itself. It does not protect procedures, processes, systems, or methods of operation. This includes the rules of a game, which constitute the procedure for playing it. Thus any part of Tetris that is present because the rules of the game -- however arbitrary those rules might be -- require it, isn't a matter of creative expression, but a necessary incident of implementing tetris. (Creativity in copyright law, you see, is all about making choices)

    Where the court errs is in determining the rules:

    Tetris is a puzzle game where a user manipulates pieces composed of square blocks, each made into a different geometric shape, that fall from the top of the game board to the bottom where the pieces accumulate. The user is given a new piece after the current one reaches the bottom of the available game space. While a piece is falling, the user rotates it in order to fit it in with the accumulated pieces. The object of the puzzle is to fill all spaces along a horizontal line. If that is accomplished, the line is erased, points are earned, and more of the game board is available for play. But if the pieces accumulate and reach the top of the screen, then the game is over. These then are the general, abstract ideas underlying Tetris and cannot be protected by copyright nor can expressive elements that are inseparable from them.

    As a long-time tetris player, I think that the court left a few rules out. First, tetris blocks are tetrominos -- shapes that can be formed from an assemblage of four squares each of which abuts at least one other square, both along their edges. Tetris uses all seven possible tetrominos. This is a functional aspect of the game, just like an American football has a particular size, shape, and other qualities. If football were played with, say, a baseball, it would greatly change the game. So too with Tetris and its blocks.

    Second, the size and shape of the playing field is functional. An analogy: While a baseball field's dimensions can vary due to local conditions (e.g. Fenway Park's left field is short because of an adjacent street), it should be about 300 to 400 feet. Imagine how different the game would be if you tried to play baseball at Mick Shrimpton Memorial Field, where due to a mistake in the blueprints the field is only 300 inches long. Could you play a decent game in a field where home runs only need to go 25 feet? You'd better have a hell of a pitcher. Who incidentally, is comfortable standing 5 feet in front of the batter. Fields that fall within a particular range are a part of the game of tetris.

    It's true that a small variation in the dimensions of the tetris playing field might not matter much, at least not to casual players. (Experts are probably highly sensitive to this.) So perhaps an argument could be made that since it needn't be a particular size and shape, and thus they are creative, copyrightable material. However, there are probably only a few small variations possible before the effect does become noticeable and affects play. In copyright, when you have a feature of a work that is creative but there are only a few possible choices that express the same uncopyrightable idea (e.g. "It was a dark and stormy night" could be "It was a pitch-black and tempestuous night" but even with a good thesaurus, there's not a hell of a lot of ways of saying the same thing), the expression is deemed to have merged with the idea. This prevents people f

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