Roy Ozaki, president of Tokyo-based Mitchell Corporation knows this all too well. His company is responsible for Polarium on the Nintendo DS. In a January 2006 interview with Chaz Seydoux of Insert Credit, Ozaki commented on his copyright infringement allegation against PopCap Games. The allegation was that PopCap's Zuma was a clear infringement on Mitchell's Puzz Loop. Ozaki makes his feelings quite clear:
"My lawyers in Japan are supposed to be on this. Progress is slow because if we do court battle in US, we would be at a disadvantage. You know the Americans and their mentality. We will be up against American jurors. You know how biased they are towards Oriental companies.
Popcap games' lawyer replied my mail and the one from my lawyers' office. In essence, they don't give a shit. I think they knew what they were doing from the start and they are bad businessmen. You know that to think of a game and to actually make it takes a lot of energy and money. Ripping off someone else's idea is bad; they don't belong in the game business."
[We contacted PopCap CEO Dave Roberts regarding this issue, and he commented simply: "There are no pending lawsuits from them to us. They have certainly told our partners about [the similarity] many times. Our position is that we haven't broken any laws." He also noted that PopCap "does distribution in Japan now, too - so it's not like we're not in Japan." Roberts declined comment on the whole 'clone wars' issues in the casual game space, for which there are notably a great number of clones of Zuma, other than noting in general of PopCap's attitude to perceived 'cloners' of its games: "We are not known as a company who resorts to legal tactics."]
Many games can still bring in revenue through new formats and services, from cell phone versions to online subscription services. This has been proven. Yet, sadly, some games from Japan aren't seeing the light of day as they've been labeled "too old" by company executives, or sadly forgotten altogether. This opens the door to potential bootleggers, clones, and copiers.
Even if a Japanese game developer or publisher does not have the resources to devote one single company website page to preserving that game, its creation should at least be legally documented. That documentation should take place at two key offices: The United States Copyright Office and the United States Patent and Trademark Office.
Why the United States? As some are well aware, these two offices maintain their own searchable online databases, accessible from anywhere in the world. The trademark database is especially important since an entry will list a company name and contact address. This is an important business contact tool. As unbelievable as it sounds, I've spoken to some in the game industry who are unable to find Japanese copyright holders for many classic games. In some instances, with the passage of time, employees, and disposal of contracts, some Japanese companies may not even know what they own! That's how bad it is. Publishers have to account for each and every game in their library.
Every game developer and publisher, large or small, Japanese or not, should file legal documents for their games with the U.S. Copyright and U.S. Patent and Trademark Offices. When a video game property is sold to another entity, or if a license reverts back to its original owner after a period of time, a "Transfer of Ownership" statement should also be filed. All of this effort accomplishes three objectives: It preserves the hard work coming from a video game development team, it serves as a back-up in the event litigation will need to pursued, and more importantly gives integrity to the industry as a whole.
[John Andersen is a North American market consultant, and specializes in providing overseas business strategies for Japanese video game publishers and developers. Andersen recently consulted for G-mode, a Tokyo based cell phone content company, and contributes news features to various video game news outlets.]