Tetris Andriod DMCA Takedown – The Tetris Clone War Begins
In the early 90’s Siouxsie was a raging Tetris addict. Who wasn’t? She saw Tetris blocks everywhere.
Falling blocks are back. Tetris clones are everywhere. And the makers Tetris want to stop these games. Last week, the Tetris attorneys sent a massive DMCA complaint to Google.
The Tetris Company LLC. has issued DMCA notices against 35 Tetris clones which Google has now seen fit to remove from the Android Market. These games apparently don’t all use the Tetris name, but instead have similar gameplay to the original Tetris leading some to question why they are being removed.
Tetris block games exist on most platforms, but for some reason Android is being targeted in this instance. Is it the rapidly growing number of Android users that caught the attention of The Tetris Company? Or was Android an easy target?
Without playing all 35 of these clones, it is hard to say whether the reach of Tetris‘ DMCA takedown is legitimate. But it is probably safe to bet that the makers of Tetris have an overly-expansive view of their rights under copyright.
Copyright laws preclude appropriation of only those elements of video games that are protected by the copyright. Not everything in a video game is protected. This is because makers of video games are allowed (and expected) to borrow and build upon each other’s work and ideas.
So, whether all of the Tetris clones infringed on Tetris’s copyright depends on whether the clones copied protected elements of the game. And while certain elements might be protected, other parts probably are not.
This is demonstrated by the 1982 PAC-MAN case, Atari v. North American Philips Consumer Electronics Corporation. In that case, Atari sued over a game called K. C. Munchkin, claiming it infringed on their copyright on PAC-MAN. The Court of Appeals found that the game was primarily unprotected because PAC-MAN was a standard maze-chase game — the player scores points by guiding a central figure through various passageways of a maze and at the same time avoiding collision with certain opponents or pursuit figures which move independently about the maze.
The Seventh Circuit explained the scčnes ā faire doctrine applied to these basic elements of PAC-MAN. Scčnes ā faire is a doctrine by which the “incidents, characters or settings which are as a practical matter indispensable, or at least standard, in the treatment of a given topic.” And under the doctrine, those devices are not protectible by copyright other than for identical copying. So in the Atari case, the mazes, tunnels, dots and scoring tables in Pac-Man were held to be scčnes ā faire and not protected. And the Court held that K.C. Munchkin, on that basis, to be sufficiently different to preclude a finding of infringement.
But the court went on to find, however, that the concepts of the main character as a “gobbler” and the pursuing characters as “ghost monsters” were “wholly fanciful” and so entitled to more protection. The K.C. Munchkin also had a main character that was a “gobbler,” and the opponents were “ghost figures”; and the size and shape of the characters in the two games were very similar, as well as the gobbling sounds; and the way the main characters disintegrated when caught. K.C. Munchkin, identical to PAC-MAN, also used a “role reversal and “regeneration.”
And so for those reasons, the Court held that Atari was entitled to a preliminary injunction against the makers of K.C. Munchkin.
Stay tuned to see if any of the Tetris clones fight the take down.
Bonus link — The coolest Tetris clone out there. If you can get past five points, let Siouxise know.