If you’ve ever been to Queen Mary’s excellent More than Just a Game events, you have probably heard of the new Interactive Entertainment Law Review journal launched by Profs. Dimita, Mimler, and Festinger. This new peer-reviewed journal offers analysis of legal issues arising from interactive entertainment, video games, virtual/augmented/mixed realities, social media, and all related and emergent forms of digital interactive entertainment. Ross and I serve as members of the Editorial Board, along with many others who are well-known in the video game legal community.
The first issue went live just the other day and we are very happy to report that it includes our new article on copyright issues raised by game input streaming and replays, titled “The Key to Key Presses: eSports Game Input Streaming and Copyright Protection.” In the article, Kirk and I explore whether and how copyright protection applies to recorded game inputs (e.g. mouse clicks and key presses in replay files), and who owns the copyright in recorded game play. Here’s the full abstract:
The eSports industry has exploded, in no small part due to the ease with which exciting matches may be watched. Many modern video games stream game user inputs to viewers, rather than bandwidth-intensive video. These game input streams can be used by the viewers’ game clients to perfectly reproduce a match in real-time. In World Chess U.S. v. Chessgames Services, a U.S. District Court held that allegedly pilfered chess game moves, as facts, were neither subject to copyright protection nor eligible for ‘hot news’ misappropriation. But might video game input streams (as facts, per the World Chess court) nonetheless be eligible for copyright protection to the extent that the input data corresponds to a copyright-eligible game performance? After all, input streams are significantly more granular and exacting than mere chess game moves: they capture millisecond-by-millisecond input and effectuate perfect reproducibility of gameplay, rather than a mere description thereof. This article explores the copyright issues under U.S. law presented by live streaming of video game inputs and proposes that video game input streams are, to the extent that they are usable to perfectly generate a faithful recreation of a gameplay performance, copyright-eligible and owned by the player of the game.