Copyright does not protect the idea for a game, its name or title, or the method or methods for playing it. Nor does copyright protect any idea, system, method, device, or trademark material involved in developing, merchandising, or playing a game. Once a game has been made public, nothing in the copyright law prevents others from developing another game based on similar principles. Copyright protects only the particular manner of an author’s expression in literary, artistic, or musical form.
This is the opening paragraph of FL-108, from the US Copyright Office… There is some confusion that I have run into on online forums regarding 3D printed miniatures for games, where there was a concern about being sued for violating the Intellectual Property rights of companies such as Games Workshop or Wizards of the Coast by creating miniatures for their games without a license.
IP rights are Copyrights, Trademarks, or Patents. There isn’t any other type. You can’t copyright a game–only the art or text within it. Ideas are not protected by copyright, only their artistic expression in fixed form. Some people think that the rules (game mechanics) are protected since they are within the copyrighted rule book, but that aspect of the work is specifically not protected by copyrights:
In no case does copyright protection for an original work of authorship extend to any idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle, or discovery, regardless of the form in which it is described, explained, illustrated, or embodied in such work
This is from a ruling on a cloned tabletop game, where the judge ruled summarily that there was no infringement. The artwork and story can be protected by copyright–The rules cannot.
This issue came up in 2011 when an artist created 3D printable versions of pieces for the game Settlers of Catan and made them available on Thingiverse. The 3D printed tiles are not based on the printed tiles from the game (which could make them derivative work), so are perfectly legal in regards to copyright.
Trademarks are a different type of intellectual property, that identifies the source of a product or Service. Games Workshop has a trademark on the term “Space Marine” as the name of a product:
The Trademark (word mark) identifies “Space Marine” as a product of Games Workshop. This trademark identifies the source of the product–specifically the tabletop wargame. It does NOT mean that Games Workshop owns the word, except as the name of a game.
The actual miniatures and illustrations from the many Warhammer Codexes are protected by copyrights. To create your own version of these pieces, if based on them, would be to make a derivative work–a violation of copyright.
However, there is nothing preventing an artist from creating miniatures intended to be used as space marines, which is why you see miniatures from 3rd parties such as Scibor Miniatures:
As long as your sculpture is original and not based on a copyrighted drawing or painting, it is not a violation of anyone’s intellectual property. As stated above, games are not protected under copyright.
There is an “Open Gaming” movement, which I have an issue with–The copyright holder granting you a “license” to use their rules to make your own content! Wizards of the Coast started this with their D20 System, to encourage 3rd parties to create content that was compatible with their game.
But game rules are not protected by copyrights, there is no need for permissions at all. The OGL license does not grant the right to use any of Wizards of the Coast’s copyrighted artwork, so it is essentially granting a license where none is required. Maybe this is a way to relieve 3rd party creators concerns that they could be sued, and to encourage them, but it also creates an illusion of “IP Rights” that don’t exist….
In this new era of 3D printed tabletop games, an artist could not only create a line of miniatures for 3D printing, but also publish stats (warscrolls) for playing them in Warhammer 40K, Hordes, Warmachines, D&D or Pathfinder!
Another possibility is to create standardized tabletop rules, where players can bring in their armies that they have bought, built or printed and play them against any army–regardless of the setting they were originally created for–A Multiversal Wargame™