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eLearning Game Copyrights

A few weeks ago, I talked about video games in training. Since that post, I have been asked if there are copyright infringement concerns when creating a game inspired by another game. I was taken aback by this question at first. After playing Jeopardy in just about every high school Social Studies class, it wasn’t a question I had thought through, and honestly, I didn’t have an immediate answer.

In order to answer this question well, we have to ask ourselves two questions:

  • What elements of a game falls under copyright law?
  • Are we are using copyrighted materials in our training?

What is Copyrighted?

Photo, texts, catchphrases, music, layout, and other design elements do fall under Copyright law. If you are hijacking any of that stuff, you are breaking the law. We explore that topic a bit more in Copyright Infringement for Learning Professionals.

What is not Copyrighted?

Ideas do not fall under copyright law. That is to say, an idea where participants pick letters that make a word or phrase and are penalized for picking incorrectly is not copyrighted by Wheel of Fortune or Hangman.

The other law to discuss is Fair Use and Parody. As a Weird Al fan, I am quite familiar with this law. To a certain extent, copyrighted material can be appropriated if it is in a satirical sense. This is how Saturday Night Live is able to play the Dating Game without huge legal fees. There is a massive gray area when it comes to Fair Use and Parody, which is why Weird Al always asks artists before he parodies their songs, and why he never made a parody of a Prince song. In short, you can create Hack Man – a Pack Man Parody, but it does leave you open for legal murky waters.

Copyrighted Material in eLearning

When we looked at video games in eLearning, my suggestions boiled down to this; select two or three game elements that these short interactions need to make it feel like a game. Draw inspiration from familiar games and leverage the elements that work for you. I did not make this abundantly clear in that post, but I will now. Please, do not rip off the game elements like the name, character names, images, music, etc… that is illegal.

Heed caution as you are considering adding any game to your training. Board games, game shows, and video games all contain a certain degree of Copyright. If you are unsure, ask a lawyer or the company that owns the copyrighted material.

Have you ever run into a Copyright issue in your training? Let’s talk about it in the comments.

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