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Judge rules in favor of Tetris Company in cloning dispute
Judge rules in favor of Tetris Company in cloning dispute
June 19, 2012 | By Mike Rose

June 19, 2012 | By Mike Rose
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    17 comments
More: Console/PC, Business/Marketing



In a move that has big implications for video game clone claims, a judge has ruled in favor of the Tetris Company against Mino developer Xio Interactive, stating that Mino is substantially similar to Tetris.

Mino was released for iPhone in 2009, and described by the developer as a multiplayer version of Tetris. The Tetris Company filed a lawsuit against Xio later that year, alleging that Mino infringed on its copyrights.

Xio argued that Mino only copied non-protected elements from Tetris, including the rules and functionality of the game, rather than its expressive elements.

However, the U.S. District Court of New Jersey has now ruled that there is a "substantial similarity" between Tetris and Mino, and that Xio has infringed on Tetris Company's copyright. It also stated that Mino constituted unfair competition for Tetris and false endorsement.

The filing explains, "Neither party disputes that a game is deserving of some copyright protection," before adding, "The game mechanics and the rules are not entitled to protection, but courts have found expressive elements copyrightable, including game labels, design of game boards, playing cards and graphical works."

It continues, "Xio is correct that one cannot protect some functional aspect of a work by copyright as one would with a patent. But this principle does not mean, and cannot mean, that any and all expression related to a game rule or game function is unprotectible. Such an exception to copyright would likely swallow any protection one could possibly have; almost all expressive elements of a game are related in some way to the rules and functions of game play."

"Tetris Holding is as entitled to copyright protection for the way in which it chooses to express game rules or game play as one would be to the way in which one chooses to express an idea."

The ruling may have implications for other alleged clone lawsuits, including the ongoing Spry Fox versus 6Waves Lolapps filing.


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Comments


Ryan Creighton
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Tetris Holding has a history of bullying small developers and platform owners into pulling any and all apps that are similar to Tetris, whether they have a legally valid claim or not. Then, to add insult to injury, the Company adds features from the games they deep-six into subsequent versions of Tetris. i believe the "hold" piece and the dropped ghost are features that Tetris gained from this Viking-like strategy.

http://www.untoldentertainment.com/blog/2009/02/04/this-little-pe
ggie-left-the-market/

E McNeill
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Surely there's a middle ground between bullying overenforcement and helplessness against blatant cloning...

Wylie Garvin
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What court? In what jurisdiction? In what country? Without this info, the article is useless.

Fortunately, 10 seconds on Google provides the answer (USDC in New Jersey).
http://www.lexology.com/library/detail.aspx?g=aa54729e-ea71-4520-
970c-c0dfa8083fff

Eric Caoili
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Thanks for pointing that out! We've edited the article to make sure that information is included.

E Zachary Knight
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Here is a PDF of the ruling: http://www.loeb.com/files/Publication/46f35910-edc0-4749-a7e7-6b5
285239339/Presentation/PublicationAttachment/1cc2bbfc-c7d4-4a69-a
289-6d03cdcd86ec/testris%20v.%20XIO.pdf

Lance McKee
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In general I think it would be great if this lawsuit led to developers having slightly more protection for their games.

E McNeill
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Agreed. If this turns into a minimal shield against the most blatant copying of game mechanics, that's a step in the right direction.

E Zachary Knight
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I don't think this ruling provides anything new to what is protectable elements of a game.

The judge pretty much ruled that because Mino copied Tetris is such a way as the two games were almost indistinguishable, that is did infringe.

I do not think this ruling would in anyway affect cloning situations such as Ninja Fishing vs Radical Fishing or Spryfox vs LolApps.

Matt Cratty
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How do you freely use game rules but not the "expressive rules"?

Do you have to change the blocks into solid shapes? Make it a non-rectangular playfield?

Is there a written summary or case study on what a good example is (for a very simple application or game), where you can successfully copy the game rules and not the expressive rules and what that entails? I'd love to read the particulars because as a layperson (read: total ignoramus), it sounds kind of subjective.

And by "kind of" I mean completely.

Note: I'm not saying this judgement was wrong or even casting doubt upon it. It just sounds too similar to the "software patents" which live or die based on the competence of the person hearing the case/patent.

E Zachary Knight
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The ruling that I linked above, described what you are looking for. It discussed how Dr. Mario took the underlying rules of Tetris, but altered them in such a way that it became divorced from the overall expression in Tetris.

So yes, it is possible to create a puzzle game in which pieces fall from the top of the playing area, you line them up with pieces placed at the bottom of the play area in order to clear the board and earn points.

Tom Baird
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I feel it comes off as sounding very subjective as well. And this can open up the gates to more legal bullies, looking to file a case, and bully you into a quick settlement for easy money. Because of the subjectivity you'll need to take it to court before you can know if your in the clear if you share any rules or similar elements to them.

While a step in the right direction with regards to protecting against pure cloning, hopefully it can be made more specific and clear about what constitutes a copying of expressive elements.

Edit: Just saw E Knights post, will have to check out what they consider to be copying compared to inspiration.

E Zachary Knight
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Tom,

Most of the judge's decision seemed to hinge on the fact that Xio failed to raise a very good defense. Xio counsel also made several statements during the hearing and in filings that undermined its defense.

Basically, Xio was relying on some very narrow doctrines of merger and scènes à faire but failed to convince the judge that the elements copied actually fit within those doctrines.

Bart Stewart
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"[A]lmost all expressive elements of a game are related in some way to the rules and functions of game play."

IANAL, but I find that statement pretty remarkable.

Doesn't it substantively undercut the distinction between copyright and patent? Does this decision now (at least in that U.S. district) extend the protective umbrella of copyright to any created thing whose expression is even marginally affected by its underlying components?

Or does it only blur that distinction for computer games?

Or something in between?

E Zachary Knight
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Taken in context, that statement has no other meaning than to describe a material fact about games. So I would not worry about it.

k s
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This case interests and concerns me in that I'm just finishing up a tetras variant of my own. While my variant isn't called tetras nor is it exactly the same as tetras it is easily comparable to tetras. I designed it based on the original but added a twist I've yet to see anyone else do and adjusted a couple of rules.

Actually the "tetras component" was really fast and easy to implement (a little to my surprise), it was the "war component" that was harder to implement.

For anyone's curiosity I titled the game Sartet.

Raymond Grier
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Do you have a blog or site where we can check it out?

Ryan Creighton
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Do you realize the game is called "Tetris", and not "Tetras" ? Your game's title is not "Tetris" spelled backwards, because you've misspelled "Tetris" forwards.


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