by Richard Chapo -
Copyright law is loved by creators of material that can be copyrighted and disliked by most everyone else. Before the web rolled around, the scope of copyright law was fairly well established. Once the world started going digital, all heck broke loose. If you want to understand copyright, you need to grasp what can be copyrighted. This brings us to the concept of fixed creations.
Although I stink at them, I enjoy a good video game or two. To say they have evolved beyond the first games of Pong and Missile Command is a slight understatement. What might surprise you, however, is to learn that copyright law has evolved massively as well when it comes to video games. How so? The first games were not allowed to be copyrighted! We'll get back to that in a moment because it fleshes out the concept of fixed creations.
So, what is a fixed creation of the mind? It is an original work that is a result of the creativity of the author. It cannot be something that is simply observed or already exists. Let's consider some examples.
Stephen King is a rather prolific writer. Imagine his writing process. He sits and thinks up some truly wild things in his mind. This is then reduced to writing and published. The resulting book is clearly a product of his imagination and is fixed in the form of text. It is a classic copyrightable item.
Now let's return to our video game issue. The first video games were not allowed to be copyrighted because courts ruled the moving images were manifested by the players, and thus weren't creative. This obviously tells us how little judges understood in regard to video games. Eventually, an enterprising lawyer was able to get a judge to understand that the game was made up of a creative idea of a designer that was reduced to code and could be replicated. Given this, the game was a fixed creation of the mind and could be copyrighted. If this change hadn't been made, you would associate Halo with angels instead of Xbox.
Copyright is a fairly simple concept to understand in theory. Applying it to real world situations can be a bit more complex. Making sure you understand the concept of fixed creations will take you a long way to getting it right.
Richard A. Chapo is with SanDiegoBusinessLawFirm.com - providing copyright transfer agreement preparation services.