Copyright – Who Owns What?

Copyright – Who Owns What?

Copyright is a moot point in the online copyright; the warez merchant claims his clients wouldn’t buy the product in question anyway – that’s bull, and he’s in breach of copyright; no-one can deny that. But a CD company skims Quake levels off the net and slaps them on a commercial CD with no mention of the original authors, and not only does the CD hit the shops, but the company gets off scot-free. Who’s wrong there? The CD company for not crediting the authors? Morally, perhaps, but tell that to the courts. Moreover, who actually owns the levels anyway?

If you take the view (as is taken by many level editor authors) that the data created in the editor is the property of themselves, since it would not have been created without their application, then fine, it seems that the editor author owns the levels. But surely that covers only the .map file? The bsp itself was created by QBSP3, QVIS3 and QRAD3. If you use the id versions…id owns your maps.

What if you used altered versions? Presumably, the author of the modified compilers used the source code distributed by id in November. The 3.14 source came with a license agreement, stating that mods written with modifications from id’s dll source belonged to id. In that case, do the modified compilers belong to id? This would mean that, once again, your levels belong to id. However, the November source code distribution said nothing like that. Hence, I would say that the altered compilers belong to their authors. Of course, they’d be stupid to claim full authorship of the compilers – that’s just not true, unless they’ve learnt everything from the id utils’ source, and written their own from scratch. Unlikely, I think you’ll agree.

However, it seems clear that the shape of the level is your intellectual property – if you have some crazy idea for a spinning computer console with lasers holding it in place based on something you saw at the local particle accelerator, it’s unlikely that anyone else does. Obviously, that idea is yours. But, unless you take out a patent, if you tell anyone about it, there’s nothing to stop them using it themselves. So how on earth could an editor author lay claim to it? Without your idea, the level would never be created – it is not true to say that without the editor, your idea could not be created; there are loads of other editors available which you could use.

The only real way to protect your levels from people like Actura is to put a sig in.

You might think that Actura is old news, but look at Todd Hollenshead’s recent .plan update on the subject of a Canadian CD company. You might think that a new texture, or just a message with your name is enough. Wrong – open a bsp in a hex editor and look near the end of the file, or make a level which uses a sig texture, and then swap the sig .wal file for another. It’s easy to get rid of one of those, but a structural sig is nigh-on impossible to edit without the .map file. As far as I’m aware, a copyright notice at the end of your readme carries no legal weight whatsoever. A sig is the only way to prevent people from trying to pass off your work as theirs, or to prove that your level is yours, and not some other idiot’s. Of course, they need to be publicised as *your* sig – check out Conformation ( for more information on that.

I am quite aware that this essay raises more questions than it answers – that’s natural; I don’t pretend to understand this issue completely, as I’m not a lawyer, only a worried Q2 editor. It’s a matter which concerns me, and that’s why I opened Conformation. You can only discourage people from pirating your level: you seem to have no legal rights at all in this area. It’s a shame that you need them, but that’s the way this world works, unfortunately.

By Murgatroyd


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