What is Copyright?
While there are basic laws that protect tangible property, Copyright protects intellectual property, such as artwork, writings, and computer programs, that often do not have a tangible nature of their own. Copyright does not protect ideas, but the expression of those ideas. Copyright also does not protect facts, but only the creative expression of those facts.
For example, if you write a FAQ and submit it to GameFAQs, it is protected by copyright. Your method for beating a particular boss is not protected, as that's an idea, although your description is protected. The number of hit points that boss has is not protected, no matter how hard it was to come up with, but your personal description of the boss is protected, as that's something you created.
For more information, nolo.com has many articles on Copyrights and Trademarks and how they work. Brad Templeton's 10 Big Myths about Copyright is one of the best-written guides on the subject for people unfamiliar with the subject, and for those in the US, the US Copyright Office has all the detailed information you need.
What is Fair Use?
Per the US Copyright Office, the Fair Use doctrine of copyright law states that limited portions of a copyrighted work may be used for commentary, criticism, reporting, and educational purposes. While the circumstances of what is and isn't Fair Use are never clearly defined, using major portions or the entirety of someone else's work does not fall within Fair Use. Additionally, competing works are normally excluded from any "Fair Use" at all.
For example: You are probably well within your fair use rights to quote text from a game; it's a limited amount of information, you are using the information for a different purpose, and you're not creating a competing product. However, if you were to quote text from the official strategy guide for the game, this likely is not considered Fair Use, as you are creating a competing product. Someone who posts a copy of your guide on another site and claims it's "Fair Use" is clearly in the wrong.
What information can I use from other sources without permission?
Without permission, you are still free to use facts and other non-creative information. Of course, you still must provide credit to the source of information in your own guide; if you don't, you are plagiarizing.
For example, you could get the hit points for the enemies in a game from the official strategy guide for that game and post them in your own guide in your own format. These are facts, and not protected by copyright. However, if you were to copy the guide's strategy on how to beat the boss, that would be a copyright infringement, as you are copying their creative work. Copying the format of the table of hit points would also be a violation of their copyright.
What is Plagiarism?
Simply put, plagiarism is the taking of information from a source and claiming it as your own. If you read a boss strategy in another guide and re-create in your own words, if you don't credit the original source of the information, you're plagiarizing.
Copyright infringement is not always plagiarism, and plagiarism is not Copyright infringement. One is a legal matter, the other is an ethical matter. Both should be avoided at all costs when creating your guide.
How do I Copyright my FAQs?
Thanks to modern laws, your FAQ is protected by Copyright law the instant it's published online. For your own protection, you should also always include a one-line copyright notice in your work: Copyright (year) (your name)
For example: Copyright 2014 John Doe.
You should not include the phrase "Unpublished Work" in your guide, as once it's been made public, it's been published. Also, you should always use your legal name instead of an alias in your copyright notice, unless you have actually registered that alias as a business name with the local government. If you use an unregistered alias, proving your ownership of the document could be difficult should it become necessary.
Do I have to update the copyright notice on my FAQs each year?
No. You only need to change that if you add content to your guide in a new year. If your original contributions to a guide cross a year boundary, you should then update the notice to reflect this, as in Copyright 2013-2014 John Doe.
What other legal information should I include?
It's always best to include a clear outline for permitted use of your guide, including whether or not other web sites can display it or other companies can use it for various purposes without advance permission.
For example, this notice shows that you wish to strictly control your guide:
This may be not be reproduced under any circumstances except for personal, private use. It may not be placed on any web site or otherwise distributed publicly without advance written permission. Use of this guide on any other web site or as a part of any public display is strictly prohibited, and a violation of copyright.
You are welcome to use the above notice or alter it for your own purposes as you see fit.
Do I have to register my FAQ with the US Copyright Office?
Registration is not required for protection under the law; if someone decides to post your guide online or print it in a magazine, you can still demand that it be removed or negotiate for compensation outside of court. However, in order to bring the person who misused your copyright to court, you must first register your guide with the Copyright Office.
Registering your guide before any violations take place or within three months of initial publication also gives you the right to sue for punitive damages in court. Otherwise, you can only collect actual damages (i.e. any profits made from the unauthorized use of your work).
Copyright registration could best be described as "rip-off insurance". There is a fee for registration ($35 as of 2014), but doing so will grant you serious power both in and out of court should someone take your guide without permission. It is probably best to register any guide that you feel is more than likely to be taken and published without permission (such as guides for very popular games, and/or guides written for import titles months in advance of a US release). Otherwise, the basic copyright protections of the law are more than likely to be enough for you.
I found a web site using my guide without permission. What should I do?
Unfortunately, there are several web sites out there that browse through GameFAQs, take guides, and post them on their site without asking permission from the original authors. What they may fail to realize is that the FAQs are owned by their authors, and international copyright law does apply to each of them.
Now, keep in mind that GameFAQs has no legal authority to stop this activity. Only the original author of a FAQ can take action against copyright infringement.
We are not lawyers and cannot give you legal advice, but we do, however, recommend that you take the following tried and true steps when something like this occurs:
- Keep a level head. This may be an accident or a mistake, or the web site may honestly not be aware of your rights in this matter. Many gaming sites are run by people who have no experience in any kind of legal issues, and they might not understand why you're upset. If you do want to make an announcement on a message board or other public forum to let others who may be in a similar situation know about it, be civil, and do not stoop to name-calling or threats.
- Send the administrator of the site in question an e-mail politely demanding immediate removal of your work. Do not make any legal threats or personal insults; simply state the facts of the matter, and nothing more. Here is an example letter you are free to use, although the tone may be more harsh than you want to be:
To the editor/owner of (insert site name here):
It has come to my attention that you are hosting an unauthorized copy of my copyrighted work on your web site, located at this URL:
(insert URL of copied work here)
I am the legally recognized author of this file, and I have not granted your site permission to use my work in this manner. This is a violation of copyright, as well as my rights to control my own work. Although I have allowed my guide to be viewed for free, this does not mean that I am allowing it to be re-published without my permission. While you may not have been aware of this situation previously, you do appear to be the responsible party in this matter, and I am asking that you rectify the situation as soon as possible.
This is my demand that you remove my work from the location stated above, and any other locations under your control where my work might be found. Please ensure the removal my work from your site within the next 2 business days, and reply to this e-mail upon the removal of my guide.
- If the person in charge of the web site refuses to respond or to take down your work, you can then use a much-hated but very useful law to help yourself: The Digital Millennium Copyright Act, also known as the DMCA. A typical notification will consist of a faxed or mailed statement consisting of the following:
- an electronic or physical signature of the owner of the copyright (or a person authorized to act on the owner's behalf)
- a description of the copyrighted work that you claim has been infringed and a description of the infringing activity
- identification of the location where the original or an authorized copy of the copyrighted work exists (the URL)
- identification of the URL or other specific location on this site where the material that you claim is infringing is located
- your name, address, telephone number, and email address
- a statement by you that you have a good faith belief that the disputed use is not authorized by the copyright owner, its agent, or the law
- a statement by you, made under penalty of perjury, that the above information in your Notice is accurate and that you are the copyright owner or are authorized to act on the copyright owner's behalf
- At this point, if both the web site operators and their host refuse to remove your work, it is in your best interests to speak with a lawyer that specializes in this sort of thing. Once a company ignores a DMCA notice, they also share responsibility for the copyright infringement, and can become a party to any legal action you choose to take.
I found a magazine or book using my guide without permission. What should I do?
This does not happen nearly as much in the United States as it does with some overseas publishers any longer, but it does happen on occasion. In this case, you are recommended to heed the following:
- Stay calm, and stay quiet. If you make a public announcement that "X ripped off my guide", then you may be shooting yourself in the foot. Most publishers have the ability to fight your claim in court, but at the same time, they will likely want to settle with you quickly and quietly with a cash payoff. They will likely want to avoid any further bad publicity, so keeping the problem out of the public eye is in your own best interests.
- Contact the editors and/or publishers and let them know what you have found. Do not make any legal threats or demands for compensation; simply bring the matter to their attention and ask that they investigate it immediately. Make sure you show proof of your ownership (simply providing a link to the original guide on GameFAQs should be enough for most net-aware publishers).
- Remember, the editors and/or publishers likely will have no idea that his happened until you let them know. Many writers for video game publications are freelancers, and the editors may honestly be unaware of what they have done until it's too late and the damage has been done. Work with them, not against them, and you'll end up much better in the end. Keep in mind that they are probably the victims here too.
- If you're underage, get your parents involved. As a minor, you cannot make any legal agreements, so you'll want them on your team from the beginning.
What is Trademark?
Trademark is the legal protection of the name by the creator to prevent dilution of that name by competitors and/or imitators. For example, "Final Fantasy X" is the trademark of Square; no other company can make a video game with that same name, or a similar name like "Final Fantazy X" to fool people into buying their product.
When it comes to creating a FAQ, any trademark issues can be quickly solved with two simple rules to remember:
- Do not claim your guide as "official" or "authorized". Unless, of course, you actually have a contract with the game's creators.
- To remove any doubts as to ownership, use the standard legal boilerplate:
All trademarks and copyrights contained in this document are owned by their respective trademark and copyright holders.
When I submit something to GameFAQs, what is its legal status on the site?
When you submit a FAQ, Image, Review, or Game Save to GameFAQs, it is considered your original and copyrighted work and you are licensing the content to GameFAQs for display. GameFAQs may modify the format, but not the content of your work, for purposes of making it world-readable. GameFAQs will host your content exclusively on the GameFAQs servers and not distribute it beyond there, although we may allow our affiliates and partners to link to the content hosted on the GameFAQs servers (which you may opt out of). You retain the right to have your content removed at any time, except in cases where you've agreed to allow us to host it indefinitely as part of another arrangement (such as a contributor contest award).