Yarrr... I hate copyright law...


First, Happy Talk Like a Pirate Day. :smiley:

Second, I’m going to complain a little bit and ask for advice. I play more video games than are good for me. There is a computer games company which has given de facto permission to other people to make free updates and modifications for those games. Modifying their copyrighted material for the purposes of these is thus ok. However, one particular mod I’d wanted to play turns out to have a small amount of a third party’s copyrighted material (fifteen or thirty seconds from the American Beauty soundtrack) for background music. I try not to break the law, but things like this… should I ask the mod maker to add in something different (music already in the game) or try to edit it myself, or is it not actual theft because no one’s making or losing money off of it?

The complaining part: US copyright law is so irritatingly stringent. The stuff people put on YouTube or Google Video, I can understand why it’s wrong, but taking something the value of which to license it would be far more than what the image/sound clip is worth seems harmless. Is the law intended to be this stupid?


Ultimately, the creator of the image/sound clip (book, photograph, movie, etc.) determines what the value of the particular item is.

50,000 people may think “it’s just a 10-second sound byte, how much is it worth?”, but multiply a dollar (or less–say, a quarter, even) by 50,000 and you’re looking at some money, right?

BTW, I’m a writer, and I know that very few writers make any kind of a living doing what they love (plus the hours are lousy, no benefits, and no one thinks you’re actually working), so I tend to embrace copyright laws. But when I try to explain it to people (especially our bakery customers who can’t understand why we can’t scan a licensed image for which we do not have a copyright onto their cake–“I won’t tell!”) it’s apparent that this is an issue you have to be close to in order to fully appreciate it.



I might be overcomplicating (or oversimplifying, depending on your take), but I think there are a couple of things about the law that might make this a non-issue:

You’d have to look for precedent, but my guess is that there’s some minimum length of a song that has to be reproduced for it to be a legal issue.

Some companies, bars for example, often pay flat-fee royalties to music publishing companies so they don’t have to keep track of which song gets played and how often, etc. It may be that the game’s manufacturer has already paid for this song’s use.

It might be illegal to put the song into the mod, but I doubt it’s illegal to use the mod. I think any lawyer would have a tough time showing any sort of damages in this case. It’s like a speed limit–the law doesn’t exist because there’s something wrong with going 3MPH over the speed limit, it exists because it’s unsafe to go 50MPH over and we need a basis to punish those who do.

I think you can, with a clear conscience, use this modified game.

Take a look at this page and I think you’ll agree: serve.com/marbeth/music_fair_use.html


Understood, and I do see the artist’s side. I just wish that “fair use” guidelines were more relaxed, as a non-writer and a fanwork nerd.

To aq:
Before I got your response, I sat down with the game files for a few minutes and figured out how I could edit the music out and put something else in its place. I had played an earlier version of the mod and didn’t like the music (which I thought was original: most people use original music, or that which came with the game) very much. Now I know how to fix things, which knowledge I wouldn’t have if not for my annoying Lawful Neutral tendencies. So it’s not an issue anymore.

For any curious, this is what I was talking about. pocketplane.net/xan


Copyright laws are somewhat annoying. I found out a few weeks ago that a Bible translation I didn’t expect to be copyrighted was. I don’t know why I thought that at the time; looking back it does seem silly of me. It’s even more irritating for me since I have somewhat more lax laws in Canada. Anyway, Lawful Neutral tendencies aren’t bad and Xan is just plain hilarious.


As far as I know, though I’m not a lawyer, copyright law only restricts distribution, not use. So just make sure you’re not redistributing the mod in question, and you’re not violating copyright law.

No copyright law can prevent you from playing a game, watching a movie, or reading a book. It can only prevent you from distributing (i.e., copying :)) such materials. This is, for instance, why record companies always sue file sharers, not file users.



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