NAMCO Demands Takedown Of Pacman Game Created By Kid Using MIT's Scratch Programming Language

from the create-your-own! dept

An anonymous reader sends over the story, found on Reddit of how Namco Bandai sent a letter complaining that a kid recreated Pacman online using Scratch. If you’re not familiar with it, Scratch is a very simple programming “language,” basically designed to teach kids how to program (or think about programming) from a young age. And what’s one of the best ways to learn to program? It’s to recreate an app that already exists. But that’s not allowed:

The really obnoxious part is at the end, where it says “While we appreciate the educational nature of your enterprise and look forward to the contributions of the future programmers you are training, part of their education should include concern for the intellectual property of others.” Apparently propaganda about copyright is more important than actually teaching little Johnny how to program?

This is how kids learn. They recreate what they know. Kids learn to play music by copying the music that they know. Many learn to draw by copying drawings that they see. They learn to write by copying the writers they like. This is how education works. But in a world where copyright trumps all, learning takes a back seat apparently.

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Comments on “NAMCO Demands Takedown Of Pacman Game Created By Kid Using MIT's Scratch Programming Language”

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74 Comments
Dark Helmet (profile) says:

Very True...

“They learn to write by copying the writers they like.”

I know one of the things I used to do when I first started out writing (hell, I still do it occasionally), was to emulate some of my favorite authors. I’d get to a place in a story and I didn’t know how to proceed, or something seemed off about the subsequent pages, or something just didn’t feel right.

Then I’d remember a similar type of progression in a favorite book I’d read. So I’d go find the book, open it up, review what the author had done in the similar situation, and then I would try to do something similar to see if the results made sense. I would even occasionally keep the book open as I wrote for a few pages to make sure I was emulating faithfully. Once past that section with something I was happy with, I’d go back to writing as I normally would.

Is this wrong? Am I being unartistic? I would think that to suggest such would be to fundemantally misunderstand how art is created in the first place….

btr1701 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Very True...

> Kinetic learning is awesome.

Yep. I teach at a law enforcement academy and we can give the recruits all the lectures in the world but nothing drives home the lessons like actual practice.

Forgetting to check their corners when clearing a room and taking a sim round to the back (and enduring resulting bruises and aches that come with it), along with that “oh shit” feeling of knowing they screwed up is something they won’t forget for the rest of their careers. The lesson sure stays with them much longer and more vividly than a classroom lecture or watching a video.

Richard (profile) says:

Do they realise

Do they realise just how many pacman games there are on Scratch?

Here is a small sample.
http://scratch.mit.edu/projects/tron/232913
http://scratch.mit.edu/projects/bigB/15121
http://scratch.mit.edu/projects/Toasty/1223458
http://scratch.mit.edu/projects/eoinj/1222098
http://scratch.mit.edu/projects/Isaac2010/1216401

Perhaps they should be looking for the rights to “whack a mole”?

In any case pacman is pretty generic. No one has copied their code and the idea of a pacman game is too broad to be subject to any exclusive rights.

Anonymous Coward says:

I don’t get it. Is the kid actually using copyrighted images or music? If he isn’t, how is this a copyright complaint? I get a patent complaint, and the trademark part if he’s calling it PAC-MAN™. But in the case of the trademark, he can call it “Scratch Eater” and forget about it… and btw, if he’s using copyrighted images/music, can he claim fair use on educational grounds? I know that last one may be a little difficult to defend.

Free Capitalist (profile) says:

When can i pick up a brush?

Just how long should a student have to spend studying copyright law before s/he is permitted to engage in any creative endeavors?

Is it any wonder more and more kids take a “why bother” attitude towards art, music and anything else creative?

I saw this interesting disclaimer someone put on the Reddit boards. Though I doubt it would do anything to stop a DMCA take-down notice, it does go to show just what level of legal knowledge we seem to be asking of young creators in this brave new world of copyright economy:

(from a reddit comment)

“This was created for non-profit educational purposes. This work has no commercial nature. This work draws on the following copyrighted works (artwork/characters/music): ———-. This work does not draw on the following copyrighted works (source code of the inspiring work, copyrightable elements of the inspiring work not used): ———-. The inspiring work is published by ———- and can be purchased at: ———-.

I, (student) ———-, declare that I believe that my use of the works cited above constitutes Fair Use under 17 U.S.C. § 107 due to the use of an insubtantial portion of the inspiring work and the negligible effect of this work on the potential market for the inspiring work. If you are the copyright holder and wish this work to be taken down, please contact me at [email].”

How many kids would want to bother doing the prior art research whenever a new inspiration strikes? Does the brain even remember what influences it is using when inspiration happens?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: When can i pick up a brush?

What are you a communist?

Children should be indoctrinated from birth, you heard me, from birth, that is right, the moment they open their eyes the first thing they should see is the “©” sign, and as they progress they should play games that instil the concepts of copyrights into them like blocks of lego that when market with a copyright mark will explode or give out tase them if they didn’t ask for permission first from someone and didn’t pay, stuffed animals should come with recording asking them to pay something before they can play with them and tell them stories of how copying others is bad and if they don’t listen, dark shadows will come and get them.

Parents that teach their kids that sharing is caring are being careless and educating their kids on how to be thiefs.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Very True...

Then it will be trademark/patent, not copyright.

BTW, I used some 10 pac-man clones from scratch, and I really don’t get what NAMCO is worried about. Most are simply unusable. 124Scratch’s (one of them) is probably the best (with tron’s), and still not pac-man by a long shot.

Danny says:

So...

does this mean that NAMCO will go through their employee roster and get rid of any of their programmers/developers that did the exact same thing as this kid did when they were younger? Hell I’d bet some of them even made their own imitations of PacMan back when they were just learning to code.

Like Free Capitalist says its not wonder that people are starting to shy away from the creative arts. Its getting harder and hard to engage in them without fear of getting sued or threatened to be sued or demanded to remove/take down content.

Anonymous Coward says:

I like the pikachu pacman version is a funny one.

Man I remember my first graphical game it took me 2 years to do it, because of all the stuff I had to learn and it was no where near this cute when I finished.

Scratch is wonderful in that it puts programming in the 21 century, no more text API’s.

Before some crazy person comes here and tell me how wonderful bash, C and assembly are I want to remind everyone that those are just API’s for the underlying opcodes of the processor.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Before some crazy person comes here and tell me how wonderful bash, C and assembly are I want to remind everyone that those are just API’s for the underlying opcodes of the processor.

Ummm… that’s true of all programming languages, including Scratch. It’s more true with the low- and medium-level languages (C, assembly) than with the high-level languages (C++, bash, Scratch, Java, etc.) of course, but still…

Marcel de Jong (profile) says:

Suck it Namco.. I'm not buying your shovelware anymore.

The more I read about stories like this, the more I yearn for the day that there is no copyright anymore. It clearly hinders progress. Now arguably, you could say that this PacMan clone is actually a step backwards in time, instead of progress, but it’s how this student learns, and who knows he/she might have built some super-awesome game.

I hope that NAMCO’s bullying doesn’t deter the student to create programs.

To NAMCO, consider me one less buyer.

These bullying lawyers need to be put in check. Go and pick on someone your own size. These provisions in law were put in place so that you could litigate against people who continue to take your copyright after you’ve asked them to stop…

Instead of firing off this god-awful NASTYgram, NAMCO should have send the student a letter asking him/her nicely to please stop creating/distributing his take on PacMan. But asking nicely has gone to the wayside, apparently. Apparently these big corporations have forgotten the word “please”. So until they re-learn that word, they can go pleasure themselves, as far as I’m concerned.

Hugo Estrada says:

Re: Suck it Namco.. I'm not buying your shovelware anymore.

This is the work of a corporate lawyer who doesn’t have enough real work.

The kids is not profiting off his version of PacMan. MIT is not profiting off his version of PacMan either.

One thing is to copy to make a profit. That is outright copyright infringement.

If the kid had pirated the ROMs, that is bad as well.

But what this lawyer wants us to believe is that one cannot emulate something else, even when we are not making money off of it, because of hypothetical “profits” that never existed.

This is nonsense. By this reasoning, hobby modeling should be illegal, since it is violating the copyrights of some corporation. No one should ever make a Star Wars outfit at home because George Lucas would be losing that royalty money.

Anonymous Coward says:

NAMCO Demands Takedown

If you bother to actually read the text of the take-down notice, you’ll see that the objection was to “offering visitors the unauthorized use of” the game, not to the programming itself.

Yes, I realize that he had to recreate the game before it could be offered for use, but it was the public deployment of the game for users in general, not the recreation of the program, that drew the takedown notice.

The educational benefit derived from recreating the program was obtained before and separate from the public deployment of the game, and this educational benefit was not diminished by the takedown notice.

So bash copyright all you want (and I agree with many of the points made in other postings). But PLEASE read the documents you are bashing and make sure you bash the correct aspects and don’t get off on unjustified tangents like this posting and most of the follow-on comments do.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: NAMCO Demands Takedown

That is not the intent of the sender as he clearly states that “…part of their education should include concern for the intellectual property of others.” and part of the eduction part there is to show what others can do so to inspire people do it too, or you don’t get that concept?

It clearly goes against copyright, it is infringement, but it should never impede education as it is hard enough to find ways to inspire children already.

If this is allowed, education in the U.S. is effectively kneecaped.

We should teach lawyers the importance of inspiration for future generations as a means to maintain the levels of education inside a country, we should teach lawyers what culture means and it doesn’t mean unsharable values.

Companies exist to support the population not the other way around, they are base on the needs of people if those people can do it by themselves why there are laws forbidding it?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: NAMCO Demands Takedown

The absurdity of the law is shown clearly here, when 12 years old kids are now capable of breaking the law trying to learn something, this is not like using drugs is it?

What we should teach those children?

That someone came up with this idea and for 200 years nobody can use it?

Thank God some people have waken up and are producing free options so those kids will at least have a way of creating their own culture that will be threatened by companies following them around trying to make them buy stuff they don’t need.

Big Bucks Bunny FTW.

TtfnJohn (profile) says:

Re: NAMCO Demands Takedown

Sorry, but unless the child copied the _code_ rather than the _idea_ it is not a copyright infringement nor does it go against copyright. As in “line for line” the code.

That said, if it’s called PAC-MAN then there’s a case of trademark violation. Maybe.

There are a world of clones of pac man out there, always have been, curious for a game that required at least 3 beer before anyone would play it, but still. 😉

Please, repeat after me, “you cannot copyright/patent an idea”, only a particular expression of one.

Trademark, yeah, I’ll give him that. Not, I repeat, not copyright.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: NAMCO Demands Takedown

I think part of the motivation to use the scratch thing is the onlineliness. I mean, this kid wrote a few dozen programs. I don’t think showing them to the world is the same as “offering visitors the unauthorized use of” the game, as the kid is clearly authorizing it by putting it online. And I do think that sharing is part of the educational experience. That is the way we do code: we google for samples. It has been since the internet exists. It was like that for the first standford/MIT hackers too, at a lower scale.

Justin Mason (profile) says:

Cease and Desist... wakka wakka wakka

I see a completely valid point to NAMCO’s complaint… Little Johnny’s program has prevented me from going out and buying my brand new copy of PAC-MAN. This does irrevocable harm to the PAC-MAN empire, and places the average stupid consumer at a total disadvantage. I mean, what if they get confused and think Little Johnny created the idea of PAC-MAN on his very own? Don’t worry though, I hear that NAMCO has been even-handed in it’s decision to pursue unauthorized PAC-MAN material — Their lawyers will also be sending a cease and desist order to Little Sally for the crayon drawing of PAC-MAN she did, which was later posted to her mother’s Facebook account. Also, they have issued a licensing update, and will be charging us all $0.05 US each time the word “PAC-MAN” is rendered.

In all seriousness though, I think the belligerent enforcement of Trademark is ridiculous, but also understandable from their perspective. NAMCO didn’t build the variable mine-field that is copyright law, but they’ve had to exist within it. I think the real shame here is the lack of vision on the part of the owners. With a character as iconic as PAC-MAN, there’s real opportunity to embrace these types of educational / non-profit characterizations and elevate themselves to a new level of relevancy to a whole new generation — an overall move I think would be much more profitiable to them moving forward.

Richard (profile) says:

Re: Cease and Desist... wakka wakka wakka

I see a completely valid point to NAMCO’s complaint… Little Johnny’s program has prevented me from going out and buying my brand new copy of PAC-MAN.

No it didn’t. There are literally thousands of other versions available for free on the web. Little Johnny’s contribution is an insignificant drop in the ocean. Unless NAMCO have pursued a reasonable proportion of these fellow infringers I think their conduct towards Little Johnny can reasonable be viewed as harassment.

CharonPDX says:

Namco is right, but in a rather ham-handed way.

Programmers *SHOULD* learn not to copy without permission. However, this was an awfully harsh way to do it. A simple “While it’s great that kids like our product enough to copy it, their copy should not be made available to the public.”

As for the Google Doodle Pac-Man? That was done with full permission of Namco. (Which is in itself slightly ironic, considering by its mere implementation in AJAX, *ANYONE* can take the code and reproduce it simply.) I’m guessing Google paid Namco a licensing fee.

ltlw0lf (profile) says:

Re: Namco is right, but in a rather ham-handed way.

Companies *SHOULD* learn that it is not right to teach programmers that sharing is illegal. Sharing is how all programmers learn (show me a half way competent programmer that didn’t learn how to program with “Hello World” examples.) Yes, using open source or something you have permission to use is optimal, but how many programming books have “ALL RIGHTS RESERVED” on them, yet we borrowed code from them all the time as part of learning how to program, and only recently has this become wrong in the eyes of publishers.

Companies *SHOULD* also learn the value of goodwill, and if I ran Namco, I’d be looking to offer students more material to learn from, because they will soon be my best employees. But the difference is that I am forward thinking enough to realize that my future profits as a company are based on the small pool of “infringers” that currently exist, instead of thinking that my ability to afford yet another mansion now is more important than the future of my company.

Companies *SHOULD* also learn that the law should apply evenly to all people (and not just people and not companies (which shouldn’t be people in the eyes of the law anyway.)) Why are companies going after kids for trademark infringement when companies like Disney can copy movies wholesale from Japanese animators (who, unlike the lawyers in the American system, view such blatant copyright infringement as flattery.) If a company copies something, they should have the same (relative) outcome that those they sue who copy their works.

While this is a trademark case, and not a copyright case (the lawyer is an idiot if he thinks he can fight the copyright aspect here, an idea cannot be copyrighted,) the DMCA is pretty clear that educational use. This cease and desist should be filed in the circular file cabinet where it belongs.

Marcel de Jong (profile) says:

Re: Namco is right, but in a rather ham-handed way.

What exactly was taken without permission?
The code? no
The iconic depiction of the pacman and the ghosts? I think that might fall under trademark, but it’s that much a part of our culture, that I think Namco will be hard pressed to make that case stick, unless they are willing lose that much free publicity.
The sounds? Perhaps, unless he recreated the sounds himself… but then the game didn’t have to be taken offline, and the C&D should’ve focused on the sounds rather than the game.

Survivorduck says:

Srsly?

This is just ridiculous. There are hundreds Pacman(c?) games on Scratch alone, imagine how many are on the web right now.

If I wanted to make a Pacman(tm?) game, i guess it would be banned unless I filled the description with something like “PAC-MAN(tm) and all related charactors are property of NAMCO (etc…)” instead of a fun description like “Eat all the circle-things without touching the ghosts!”?

Namco, You just lost one more customer.

Anonymous Coward says:

this is what i would do

when i’m learning new languages, i often take examples of other programs for “inspiration” or simply to see the syntax.

if i were to *ever* get a notice like this, i would take a trip to the lawyer’s office. wait outside and get some pictures of him as he left his office. get some pictures of him as he got in his car (with license plate). follow him home and take some more pictures of his home, complete with mailbox number.
i would then send him a nice reply saying :
“thanks for the message, glad you liked my example of X. it would be a shame if anything happened to you in your car on the way home from the office. education is far more important than $$, if you sue over this–i’ll be broke, but i bet that you’ll be far worse off than me in the end.
kind regards”

after all, eye for eye right?
threaten my livelihood, and i’ll respond in kind.
i can guarantee that the first report you see of a copyright lawyer being sent to a hospital will immediately cause the rest to carefully consider how they take and handle these cases in the future.

these “laws” are just legal ways to gain a monopoly, and i hope that one day i get targeted so i can put my above plan in effect.
aww hell, maybe i’ll just do it anyways since someone has to be first.

Anoymous says:

Meh

Hmm… I didn’t know that’s how it works. Well, in that case, NAMCO will have to take 3 years to take down every single clone of the damned game on the internet, and then 1000000000000000 more will pop up. I can now safely say that NAMCO will not be productive any more. It will spend every day trying to take down clones of a ball eating smaller balls and then getting killed by a ghost.

Hyou KitztaBane says:

I love namco. it's not their fault.

I don’t believe that NAMCO would do this. their take on clones was just fine until those Bandai pigs stuck to them like some hairy wort or tumor. I say time to trim the hedge and throw the Bandai branches into unquenchable fire. although I must say if somebody copied my books I’m writing I’d get pretty pissed.

Magnie (user link) says:

Thousands of Pac-Mans

Hasn’t anyone realized how many versions of Pac-Man and copies of Pac-Man there are? There must be at least 100 on the Scratch website itself. But there are thousands of Pac-Man games out on the internet. Hundreds on flash, hundreds for Java ( maybe ) then even more for others ( Python ). Namco must realize that there is no way that they can stop people from making more, and there is no way that they can take down over thousands of different Pac-Man games. Pac-Rat? That’s practically the same game, just different drawings.

Enough has been said, there is no way to do anything about Pac-Man now. It only gives ideas and fun.

Neil Roy (profile) says:

I actually created a PC version of an Amiga game called Deluxe Pacman and have had it available for many years now (since the 90s) and have never been contacted by Namco.

I looked up trademarks and they have the name Pac-Man trade marked, but not “Pacman”. I found one trademark entry for “Pacman” by some Korean clothing maker. This could explain why I never heard from them, I’m not sure. It does resemble their game, only with guns, dynamite etc.. I have been working on a new version, but want to rename it, it’s so difficult to find a name that isn’t trademarked, it’s crazy, the simplest name is trademarked. Greed is rampant it seems. (my game is free, not that it makes a difference)

It could be difficult to get rid of my game now, it’s all over the net. It has sometimes concerned me. I guess this is the good thing about not having a lot of money, they can’t get blood from a stone. 😉

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