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A talk with Alex Randolph
... on the rights of designers

Many game designers fear that the games they have invented will be stolen if they send them to a manufacturer. I don't believe that a publisher woiuld ever steal from a designer! Because if it happened would it quickly be known and that publisher would never be offered a game again. However it does happend that a publisher steal from other publishers.
If someone invents something really special can he protect himself. The way I use is, I believe, very good: send yourself a written letter and write outside on the envenlope what it contains. Then you enclose everything belonging to the game: rules, pictures etc. The envelope should remain sealed. This is then 100% proof that the designer had the idea at a specific date.
Even better is to make two copies, and then mail one set to a friend or an attorney. Then there are two versions, and one with a very strong evidence. This is called "confidential disclosure" in English: if I reveal something to you in confidence and ask to not speak about it with anybody, you will be able to prove in case of a dispute that I discussed the subject with you at a certain date. If a sealed envelope containing the subject can be opened in court will you have 100% proof. In addition will the court always be on your side. It has not yet happened that a jury voted against a designer. There is a sentimental prejudice for the poor helpless inventor against the powerful capitalist with big cigars in their mouths set out to destroy the innocent victim...
But it really isn't as bad as many designers imagine. You must trust the people you are going to tell about your ideas. If you don't do that would it be better not to go at all. I have been in the business for a quarter of a century and I speak completely openly about new ideas with people I trust, and I ask them for their opinion. It has never occured to anyone to steal such an idea. However, it can be dangerous if the designer goes to a fair and presents his idea to the public.
Friedhelm Merz has told me that the International Gamedays in Essen have a 6 months trademark and protection of registrered design if presented to the German federal authorities before the fair. It is thus guaranteed that the game cannot be copied and produced e.g. at the next Nürnberg fair. It is thereby also clarified that the rights remain with the designer and isn't lost by presentation to the public in Essen.
If it wasn't for this trademark and pattern protection would he probably lose his rights after making it piblic as the game would be in "public domain". He must then make several copies or make sure it is reproduced somehow. I am not familiar with the German law, but I know that in American must you make 8 copies to be entitled to use the copyright mark, even if you never did apply for the copyright. If I, for example, write a set of rules and mark them "© by Alex Randolph 1988" on them, then it is a legal copyright in America. And I am sure one is protected in Germany as well.
If smeone writes a set of rules and someone else writes the same rules, but with completely different words, then does the first not have legal protection.
If I see people sitting with an individual prottotype in Göttingen, then they have no protection! They have published the game by sitting there with their game, just as a poem is published as soon as you write it on a wall. Anybody may copy it and make a song to it. Whether the catalogue published in Göttingen every year is really a protection or not would need careful examination.
We also made this book "Spiele zur Schatzinsel". I believe that we no longer have the rights to the games in it after it was published. If someone steals a game from it can he just say that just read about it. It was in a book printed x times.
The rights are different from country to country. In Italy, for example, you don't need to prove that something is your legal property to get a patent. Only if someone comes along and says: "I invented that" would it be necessary to investigate who really owns the rights. In England can it take months until everything has been examined and you can get your patent. In USA will he manufacturers not open a box sent by you. They want to avoid getting in the situation where you claim that you have once shown them a game with precisely that game idea. Therefore you must negotiate with the publishers through agents.
on cooperative gamesIntroduction

From Knut-Michael Wolf's interview in the special issue of Die Pöppel-Revue 1988
with kind permission from Friedhelm Merz Verlag and spielbox.de

© Mik Svellov 1997-2004editor@brettboard.dk03. maj 2004