Pool games did not infringe the game that inspired them, says court

Out-Law News | 30 Jan 2006 | 2:25 pm | 2 min. read

Features in coin-operated games Jackpot Pool and Trick Shot were inspired by another pool game, Pocket Money; but the features did not form a substantial part of the original, according to the High Court, which ruled that there was no copyright infringement.

Pocket Money was designed by David Jones of Nova Productions. His company sued rivals Mazoomer Games, maker of Jackpot Pool, and Bell-Fruit Games, maker of Trick Shot.

The Honourable Mr Justice Kitchin analysed the games in detail before handing down his 53-page judgment on 20th January which concluded that each game looked different and played in a different way.

Justice Kitchin considered many similarities between the games. Some were inevitable; the court heard that more than 100 snooker and pool titles have been produced over the years.

Justice Kitchin concluded that two features of Jackpot Pool were "inspired" by Pocket Money: both were games with prizes themed on the game of pool; and both showed a coin graphic moving across the screen at certain times during gameplay. Another feature of Pocket Money – a row of dots to show the anticipated direction of a shot – had "affected" Jackpot Pool's design, which used a shorter row of dots; and a pulsing cue synchronised with a pulsing power meter had been "derived" from Pocket Money – but implemented in a visually different way.

Trick Shot also shared similarities. The idea of a rotary controller was inspired by Pocket Money – but the movement of the cue around the cue ball was not derived from the game, for example.

However, these were not deemed substantial parts of either the artistic or literary works held in copyright by Nova.

Justice Kitchin wrote: “It is the cumulative effect of the copied features which is important. The court must consider whether, taken as a whole, they constitute a substantial part of the copyright work."

Nova pointed to its computer program and design notes to assert infringement of a literary work. But the judge found that the features which had inspired elements of Trick Shot were “ideas which have little to do with the skill and effort expended by the programmer and do not constitute the form of expression of the literary works relied upon."

“Ideas and principles which underlie any element of a computer program are not protected by copyright under the [Software] Directive,” he added.

As for the design notes, Justice Kitchin described them as just "a series of jottings and ideas.”

Accordingly neither Trick Shot nor Jackpot Pool had infringed on Pocket Money.

Bell-Fruit's Managing Director, John Austin, said "a massive amount of cost and resource was put into the preparation of our defence as well as the time spent in court". He added, "I feel angry to have been obliged to do it. I hope this judgment will dissuade future fallacious claims on similar issues."

He said that both companies will be applying to recover their legal costs from Nova.

Nav Sunner, a games law specialist with Pinsent Masons, the firm behind OUT-LAW.COM, said:

"This case illustrates the dichotomy in copyright law between 'idea' and the 'expression of that idea'. Copyright law protects the latter so wherever possible a games designer should express his thoughts into a detailed game design document to clothe the bare bones of the ideas underlying any new game. It is the detail to which the court will look at to protect.

"Conversely, taking generic ideas from previous games should not stop game developers releasing similar games provided the detail of such games are not used."