If two people contribute in co-authoring a video game, who owns the copyright?

The court found that the man’s contributions to the game were minor and consequently there was no co-authorship.
The court found that the man’s contributions to the game were minor and consequently there was no co-authorship. (Photo: iStock)

For the first time in Canada, the issue of co-authorship/copyright ownership of a videogame was considered in a case heard by the Superior Court of Quebec.

A man claimed to be the co-author of a videogame for which he did some artwork, asking for 50 per cent of the profits the game generated.

The author of the game quit his job and decided to finance the videogame venture himself. The game involves cars which are user controlled and in order to get points, gamers have to perform stunts. While the game is free, players who want to get ahead have to purchase add-ons.

The man was a friend of the author’s, as well as an artist who worked in the videogame industry and volunteered to do some artwork free of charge, because at the time the author didn’t have the funds to pay the man.

The author believed he spent around 1,200 hours working on the game and spent around $20,000. The author not only provided the funding for the project, he also created the conception of the game, graphical elements and level design, while the man contributed image files for five cars and proposed the title of the game.

When the videogame came out in 2011, it was a huge success. That is when the man asked for 25 per cent of the profits, which the author rejected. The author made other settlement offers, such as paying him $10,000 but the man rejected all of the offers and took the author to court, claiming co-authorship of the game.

The court noted that without the author’s work there would have been no videogame, which is not the case with the man’s contributions.

Some factors to determine if there was co-authorship in this case were: the requirement that there be “substantial contribution” to the game, the intention to work collaboratively and that there be co-authorship, and finally that the work of the authors is intermingled in a way in which they can’t be differentiated.

The court found that the man’s contributions to the game were minor and distinguishable and consequently there was no co-authorship.

The man did not go home empty-handed though, as the court awarded him the $10,000 the author had originally offered him.

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