Ken Thayer Podcast with guest Ryan Morrison

Video Game Lawyer Ryan Morrison

Summary:

In this week’s episode of Attorney Talk, Ken Thayer interviews Ryan Morrison, who is a practicing lawyer in New York and represents clients in the video game industry. During this episode, we discover what a video game lawyer does, the current state of the industry, issues in the gaming space and using standard vernacular, compare PC and mobile marketplaces, and hear about the legal concerns for gaming companies.

Main Questions Asked:

  • What is a video game lawyer?
  • What drew you to the video game industry?
  • Who are most of your clients?
  • What is the relationship like between developers and publishing houses?
  • Why isn’t Apple getting into high-end gaming?
  • At what stage do the clients come to you in the development of their games?
  • Talk about taking a flat fee per transaction.
  • What are the main legal concerns for a game company?
  • Where is the line for using standard vernacular words such as ‘saga?’
  • Do negotiations have to work through Apple and Google?

 

Key Lessons Learned:

Video Game Law

  • Video games make more than movies, music, and TV combined.
  • Video game law is essentially entertainment law, which is contracts, intellectual property, privacy, and internet law through the context of video games.
  • A big hurdle is getting the video game industry to use lawyers and show them that attorneys can be an asset to the team.
  • The attorney/client relationship is much more casual when it comes to the video game industry.
  • Ryan’s law firm has adapted to the clients with regards to flat fees, client outreach, communication and services.
  • The unique part of the video game industry is that so much doesn’t require a courtroom to cause major headaches and have legal weight behind it.

 

The Clients

  • There are two types of clients: developers and publishers.
  • In order to not conflict himself out of potential clients, Ryan tries to stick mostly with the developers as clients.
  • 90% of Ryan’s clients who are game developers aren’t working with XBOX or Sony and have no desire to. Console gaming is actually turning into a niche field.
  • From a client’s point of view, the future of gaming is PC-based and in mobile apps.
  • More clients are coming to video game lawyers preemptively, when they have the basic foundation of the project. This was not always the way.

 

Current State of the Industry

  • The law doesn’t ignore you just because you are an independent developer. If your app is infringing, or if you don’t sign the right agreements, you are setting yourself up for seriously problems.
  • More games are being sold on platforms such as Steam and Amazon or on phones, and you don’t need a publisher.
  • The desire to work with a publisher who takes 50% of the profits is not what it used to be, as people now self-promote on social media and Reddit or fund via Kickstarter.
  • The publisher is a dying breed, but you still see AAA games from publishers, such as Madden and Call of Duty, that dominate the sales.

 

Issues in the Gaming Space

  • Developers use contractors to complete their games and offer equity or revenue.
  • If developers don’t have an agreement in place with contractors, there is opportunity for them to hijack the project.
  • If you don’t sign an IP assignment agreement and are taking a revenue share for making something for someone else, then you retain ownership. Hence the need for agreements.
  • There must be a contract saying you are giving up rights. Without that, it is a form of legal blackmail.

 

Flat Fees Per Transaction

  • The biggest hurdle for Ryan was making the legal world less intimidating for game developers.
  • The quote in the beginning from his firm to clients isn’t an estimate; it is an exact number. Ryan doesn’t charge for calls or emails, and in some cases does pro bono work.

 

Legal Concerns for Gaming Companies

  • Incorporation Process 
    • This gives you a liability shield from people going after your personal assets in a lawsuit.
    • Your company can get sued, but they can’t sue you.
    • A corporation protects you if you are sued. A good contract protects you from being sued.
    • Create a corporate structure outlining who owns what. 
  • Form independent contract agreements.
  • Trademark your games.
  • Have terms of service for privacy policy drafted.

 

Standard Vernacular

  • The real test is if something is confusingly similar to a consumer.
  • Fair use doesn’t exist unless you are a AAA studio with a bottomless legal budget.
  • It will cost you at least six figures to prove fair use, and you won’t win that battle against big studios.

 

The Mobile and PC Marketplaces

  • The three major mobile stores are Amazon, Google, and Apple. They each have different levels of compliance and willingness to work with lawyers.
  • These are different worlds in the sense that the mobile marketplace will generally publish anything, and if you send a ‘takedown’ request, they will usually honor it immediately.
  • Amazon complies with the law. If they get a ‘takedown’ request, they remove it immediately. However, they don’t work with you if your game was frivolously taken down.
  • Apple doesn’t keep their own liability protection that the copyright act would provide them because they don’t take the game down immediately and instead flag it.

 

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Links to Resources Mentioned

 Ryan Morrison Law

Ryan@Ryanmorrisonlaw.com

VideoGameAttorney (Reddit)

Law Technology Today (Article)

 

 

Click To Tweet 

What’s it like to be a video game attorney? Find out from a leader in the field @MrRyanMorrison @gaylordpoppllc http://www.gaylordpopp.com

 What is the state of the video game industry when it comes to the law? Find out w/ @MrRyanMorrison @gaylordpoppllc http://www.gaylordpopp.com

 

 

 

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