Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Wants to Reclaim Videogame Rights

Dear Rich: I work in the computer games industry. Years ago (1993) I worked for a company that folded and it's intellectual property (it's back catalogue of games) was purchased by a third publisher/developer that has done nothing with those titles specifically since they acquired them and apparently done nothing at all in the last decade. There is a possibility some of the original people behind those titles (myself and the creator of those games) could do something new with the intellectual property but the current owners seem to be uninterested in any communication (if indeed they are still trading).  In summary, they bought our stuff  when the previous company went down and they have sat on it the last 15 or so years. Can we claim abandonment and take it back? The short answer is "No." We're sorry to hear that your hard work from the past is sitting on a shelf with no support from the new owner (BTW, welcome to the club -- we can't believe the over inflated price on this outdated edition). But there is no legal basis for you to "reclaim" your rights based on the current owner's inactions.
You can "grab" some rights if ... If you had created the games independently and transferred rights to the company, you could reclaim copyright 35 years after the transfer. (Here's more on the 35 year reversion rule.) But that's probably not the case if you're an ex-employee. The original company would own those rights with no right of reversion. Alternatively, anyone (not just you and the other ex-employees) can claim any trademarks (for example, the videogame names) if the current company has stopped exploiting the games and has no apparent intention to resume. (Here's more on trademark abandonment.)
Course of action. If you think there's a chance the games can make some money perhaps the company would be more responsive if you offered them a deal --  for example, you'll grant them a royalty of future revenues. (PS Try to avoid providing an advance to keep your risk factor down.)