Announcing The Public Domain Game Jam: Gaming Like It's 1923

from the make-sonny-bono-proud dept

Gaming Like It's 1923: The Newly Public Domain Game Jam

Happy new year, everyone. Every year, soon after the new year, we post a somewhat disappointing post describing how, once again, no new works have gone into the public domain in the US, because various lobbying interests have continued to extend copyright over and over again, with the last such extension coming in 1998 (the last time old works automatically entered the public domain in the US), better known as the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act. It's been 21 years of nothing, and that's been quite sad. But this year is different. Thanks to public interest in copyright and people getting increasingly angry about our locked up culture, Hollywood didn't even make a serious attempt to extend copyrights again (to be fair, they put out some feelers, and when they realized it would be a total disaster, they let it go).

So this year, we've been seeing tons of celebratory articles, highlighting how works from 1923 are finally entering the public domain (WAY later than they should have, but not much we can do about that now). So, it's time to celebrate. And what good is a public domain if you don't do anything with it? So, today, now that these works are in the public domain, we're announcing the Gaming Like It's 1923 Newly Public Domain Game Jam. We've teamed up, once again, with Randy Lubin from Diegetic Games, who was our partner on the (public domain) CIA: Collect It All card game, to run this game jam.

If the idea of a game jam is new to you, it's pretty simple: it's just a month-long contest for you to create games: these can be video games, board games, card games, RPGs, interactive fiction, etc. The one key requirement: it must use something from 1923 that has just entered the public domain. Those works are free for anyone to use, and we should celebrate that by actually making use of them to do something fun. So go create a game and submit it. There are some more details on the rules/restrictions and some pointers on the game jam page. Go make Sonny Bono proud (despite the fact that he believed that, contrary to the Constitution, copyright should last forever). We're offering up copies of our CIA game and some of our copyright-related t-shirts as prizes.

If you need some source material for inspiration, Duke's Center for the Study of the Public Domain already has a nice page of highlights of newly public domain material, as well as a nice spreadsheet with even more works. Also, there have been a ton of news articles in the lead up to this first US public domain day in twenty-one years, that might also get you thinking. Here's ones from the Smithsonian, the NY Times, BoingBoing, NPR, Quartz, Motherboard, The Stranger and Slate, so start hunting around for great cultural works to build on...

We've already put together an all-star cast of judges, mixing folks from both the worlds of gaming and copyright/public domain, including folks like Cory Doctorow, Whitney "Strix" Beltran, Dan Bull, Rebecca Tushnet, Nicky Case, Mark Lemley, Daphne Keller, Jason Scott, Jason Morningstar, J Li, Eric Goldman, Carolyn Homer, Albert Kong and we'll likely be naming a few more judges over the course of the month. Stay tuned.

Filed Under: 1923, board games, copyright, game jam, public domain, video games


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  1. identicon
    Pixelation, 1 Jan 2019 @ 8:04pm

    Yeah but...

    Where's Mickey?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. icon
    Mike Masnick (profile), 1 Jan 2019 @ 8:39pm

    Re: Yeah but...

    Where's Mickey?

    Four more years to go...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Jan 2019 @ 10:22pm

    Re: Re: Yeah but...

    Cool. Now we can start preparing all the merchandise for the eventual onslaught.

    Ricky Rouse and Monald Muck, eat your heart out!

    "Oh what a time to be alive"

    Techdirt could have a countdown timer running in the banner.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Jan 2019 @ 10:24pm

    Re: Re: Yeah but...

    Oh yeah.

    And you can change your name to Michael Mousenick.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. icon
    PaulT (profile), 1 Jan 2019 @ 10:52pm

    Nice idea. One of the problems with an overreaching public domain is the fact that it can cause works to effectively disappear from history. Many works from 1923 are unavailable either because there's no commercial incentive for the current rightsholders, or because they're orphaned works and nobody knows who owns the rights. Many of these works require restoration, which also may not be done without commercial inventive.

    So, this a great move as it not only encourages people to look among the works from 1923 that have been rightfully retuned to the public, but might help generate further interest in works that might otherwise have disappeared.

    It's also worth noting something about the date - of the big six major Hollywood studios, 2 were incorporated in 1923 (Warner and Disney). I think this is notable for many reasons, but just have a look at this list:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Warner_Bros._films#1920s

    That's a lot of "lost films" in their history. There's various reasons for these, ranging from the volatility of film stock to the general lack of awareness of the long term of importance of films in general. But, if this sort of thing encourages anyone locating prints of these works to make them available without having to go through a modern corporate release schedule, then we're all the richer for it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Jan 2019 @ 11:06pm

    Here's an idea: Tero Pulkinnen (tp) and the Millionaire's Mansion.

    Play as the misguided Scandinavian programmer as he journeys across the public domain, coming across all the free works competing for eyeball space against his MPAA-approved meshpage, which he expects laymen to buy but doesn't advertise it beyond two English buses, or make it available on retail.

    Every time he sees a work in the public domain he shits a brick.

    The game ends when he shits enough to build his $6 million dollar Minecraft mansion.

    DLC includes hunting for garden gnomes.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    Glenn, 2 Jan 2019 @ 1:18am

    Every totally and completely original work should have a copyright that lasts forever... both of 'em. All other works should have a proper copyright: ten years max. 20 years was fine hundreds of years ago, but with as many people around now as there are, one can easily get one's "due" within 10 years. (And all money should go to the actual creators and authors, not to sucky groups like the RIAA [labels].)

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Jan 2019 @ 3:38am

    I can't get no ...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Jan 2019 @ 4:02am

    Re:

    He's technically not wrong, though.

    As long as the definition of "totally and completely original" is rigidly upheld.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    Michael, 2 Jan 2019 @ 5:20am

    Re: Re: Yeah but...

    Yup.

    And in 4 years, a retroactive copyright extension will not only cover Mickey again, but all of the content that this game jam is going to use.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Jan 2019 @ 5:35am

    Re:

    Many works from 1923 are unavailable due to the fact that the media storing them was crap and did not hold up to modern times. Wait until the first few years of computer records hit the public domain and see how many copies ended up being saved here and there.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. icon
    Gary (profile), 2 Jan 2019 @ 6:10am

    Re: Re:

    So the first draft of the Silmarillion, written in Elvish would be completely and totally new. But it would be impossible to get an eternal copyright on anything with elves or magic swords?
    I like where you are going with this - but nothing would qualify for this "completely original" protection, Everything's a re-mix.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. icon
    PaulT (profile), 2 Jan 2019 @ 6:13am

    Re: Re: Re: Yeah but...

    Even more important that this kind of thing happens then, I think. If there's a body of work to point to and say "this would not have existed with further copyright extensions", that's a better argument than asking people to imagine what might have been. Especially if some of the new creations are successful financially.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    tanj, 2 Jan 2019 @ 7:29am

    Re: Re: Re:

    So the first draft of the Silmarillion, written in Elvish would be completely and totally new. But it would be impossible to get an eternal copyright on anything with elves or magic swords?

    Nope.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/J._R._R._Tolkien%27s_influences

    I like where you are going with this - but nothing would qualify for this "completely original" protection, Everything's a re-mix.

    That's the idea.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Jan 2019 @ 7:47am

    What about Felix The Cat?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Jan 2019 @ 7:48am

    Re: Re:

    true, even tho it is impossible.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Jan 2019 @ 7:48am

    Re:

    .. and his bag of tricks

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. icon
    Mason Wheeler (profile), 2 Jan 2019 @ 8:00am

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    How did that Wikipedia article manage to miss one of the most obvious ones of all: the Ring of Gyges?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Jan 2019 @ 8:02am

    Re: Re: Re:

    Exactly the point.

    Nothing can have it. Nothing wrought by modern, mortal hand can have it. We know what it is; it's just impossible. Just like absolute zero Kelvin.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Jan 2019 @ 8:22am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Because Plato is no longer widely read, because ancient Greek is no longer taught as one of the keys to knowledge. (The other key was latin).

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21. identicon
    cpt kangarooski, 2 Jan 2019 @ 9:18am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    How did that Wikipedia article manage to miss one of the most obvious ones of all: the Ring of Gyges?

    They probably just didn’t see it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22. identicon
    cpt kangarooski, 2 Jan 2019 @ 9:22am

    Re:

    Felix in his original incarnation has been in the public domain for years. He first appeared in 1919. The main thing is, if you use the character, be careful not to use attributes that came later. For example, the famous bag of tricks didn’t show up until 1953. Likewise, he used to have a squatter design, and if you use him, that’s what you’re stuck with, not the later, slimmer versions.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Jan 2019 @ 4:15pm

    I am so looking forward to reading works like Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” on disposable/flushable paper products. That contribution to culture would not be possible without a vibrant public domain.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24. icon
    John Roddy (profile), 2 Jan 2019 @ 8:26pm

    Re: Re:

    Many works from 1923 are unavailable due to the fact that the media storing them was crap and did not hold up to modern times.

    Boy is that an understatement. We've lost the overwhelming majority of silent films because the prints had a tendency to spontaneously combust. The film stock itself was so dangerous that theatres actually started imposing strict safety rules on the projection booths, like insulation in the form of asbestos...

    I'm genuinely not sure how humanity is still around.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25. icon
    PaulT (profile), 2 Jan 2019 @ 10:58pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    Nitrate prints are one of the best examples of how overbearing copyright can damage culture. Either the prints have been stupidly rounded in to one place and thus the movies destroyed the only known prints of certain movies (e.g. the 1965 MGM fire) or they risk losing films through general degradation as greedy copyright owners hold on to films but refuse to properly restore or transpose them to other media.

    We still have instances where people are finding random reels of films presumed to be lost forever in the most unexpected places. But, there's a limit to what can be done with them if the copyright is owned by an unsympathetic corporation who sees no financial value is restoration.

    "I'm genuinely not sure how humanity is still around."

    I'm pretty sure we've done other things as a species that have been more dangerous than having a relatively unstable early form of media.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26. icon
    Thad (profile), 3 Jan 2019 @ 7:52am

    Re: Re: Re: Yeah but...

    They can try.

    But the opposition is much stronger and more organized than it was in 1998, and Congress is dysfunctional. Trying another extension would be a gamble.

    They may decide that their best course of action is to switch to litigation (sue anyone who puts one toe out of line in, for example, coloring Mickey's shorts red before the color cartoons go into the PD) and keep it out of Congress.

    I was expecting a big push this past year. We didn't get one.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27. icon
    PaulT (profile), 3 Jan 2019 @ 10:20am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Yeah but...

    It occurred to me earlier that perhaps Disney isn't fighting the way they used to because they know that they stand to gain more than they lose by letting it be. Now this might be extremely optimistic, but hear me out:

    The previous fight took place during the 90s, where Disney was only just rescuing itself from a bad run and depended a lot on their classic characters for revenue. They had a bunch of successful newer works, but even then the public domain provided the source for almost all of the new properties - The Little Mermaid, their first major animated hit in many years, was only just released when they started lobbying in 1990 (date taken from a quick glance at Wikipedia, I know the history is more complex!). They were desperate to keep on track and knew that the sturdy foundations they depended on might crumble if their old works went PD.

    Fast forward to this decade, and the landscape has completely changed. Their acquisitions of Pixar, Marvel and Lucasfilm has led to them totally dominating the landscape again with properties that are nowhere in near of danger of being pushed into the PD for a very long time, and even in-house original properties have ballooned into multi-billion box office and merchandising empires. They probably make as much from things like Cars merchandise as they do with Mickey himself, if not much more.

    Now, their competitors haven't been so lucky, and they have other properties that will be entering the PD within the next decade or two that Disney would love to legally appropriate. Imagine getting the Looney Tunes in a Pixar movie, with no royalties being required, for example. They already have a massive competitive advantage, and this can be leveraged without the public domain.

    So, knowing that Disney can protect their core properties in other ways, such as with trademark law, perhaps they've had a look and decided that it's more profitable to fight in this way and with other things like their upcoming streaming service, than it is by insisting that properties that were created before any of their current audience were born need another 20 years worth of protection.

    I know, this may be giving them far too much credit, and perhaps hopelessly optimistic, but it does cross my mind that they might be thinking ahead of the game here. That it also happens to benefit independent artists and the public might just be a side effect, but it does seem like a plausible idea given that they're not the organisation clinging desperately to a previous golden age that they were when they started the previous fight.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28. icon
    Thad (profile), 3 Jan 2019 @ 11:42am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Yeah but...

    I don't think that's it, exactly. I do think that Disney's very happy with the (ugh) diverse IP portfolio it's acquired through various acquisitions, but I don't think that's the reason it isn't fighting to extend copyright again. I think the main reason it isn't fighting to extend copyright again is that there's a good chance it would lose, and face very bad publicity in the process. (In the worst case, it might create a push in the opposite direction, to decrease copyright length. I think that push is probably coming, but I don't expect it to happen for another 20 years at least.)

    At any rate, if copyright doesn't get extended again, then we're 17 years out from Captain America and Bucky hitting the public domain, with Red Skull joining them the following year.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29. icon
    PaulT (profile), 3 Jan 2019 @ 12:04pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Yeah but...

    "I think the main reason it isn't fighting to extend copyright again is that there's a good chance it would lose, and face very bad publicity in the process."

    It's a combination, I think. They'd almost certainly have tried the same thing again if they were in the same position they were before, but they really don't need it anywhere as much as they used to.

    "At any rate, if copyright doesn't get extended again, then we're 17 years out from Captain America and Bucky hitting the public domain, with Red Skull joining them the following year."

    Well... the original forms, anyway. If the Wizard Of Oz debacle that's still going on is anything to go by, anything not covered in the original comics would still be under copyright, and they'd certainly lose no time stopping people from using anything they can trademark.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  30. icon
    Thad (profile), 3 Jan 2019 @ 12:16pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Yeah but...

    Right; see my example above: "sue anyone who puts one toe out of line in, for example, coloring Mickey's shorts red before the color cartoons go into the PD".

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  31. icon
    PaulT (profile), 3 Jan 2019 @ 10:27pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Yeah but...

    I don't get what you mean there, though. Do you mean they'll try releasing a bunch of stuff with minor changes to create new copyrights in order to anticipate what people are going to do once the works are public domain? If so, I dare say that would create more of a backlash than extending the copyrights, and like the endlessly doomed arms race to create unbreakable DRM would only encourage people to find the gaps the inevitably leave.

    I'm thinking more like - people would be able to use the images from the original Captain America comic or tell a version of that original story, but if they used any story or character elements not seen in the first issue or they tried to use the names Captain America, Red Skull, Steve Rogers, etc. in the derivative works then Disney would sue hard.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  32. icon
    Thad (profile), 4 Jan 2019 @ 7:53am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Yeah but...

    I don't get what you mean there, though. Do you mean they'll try releasing a bunch of stuff with minor changes to create new copyrights in order to anticipate what people are going to do once the works are public domain?

    No, I'm saying exactly the same thing you're saying: they're going to watch derivatives of their now-public-domain works like a hawk to make sure they only contain public-domain components. There's a pretty good article at Ars Technica that notes that, for example, Mickey didn't wear gloves until 1929, and his shorts weren't red until 1935. If Steamboat Willie goes into the public domain in 5 years as planned, then that will mean Disney giving up on suing third-party works that use Mickey -- so long as it's the version from Steamboat Willie, and does not incorporate any elements that were added in later cartoons. But you can still expect the lawyers to swoop in aggressively for any works that do incorporate those later elements: gloves, red shorts, etc., or that use trademarks like "Mickey Mouse" in a way that implies endorsement or could reasonably be expected to confuse buyers into believing it's a licensed Disney product.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  33. icon
    PaulT (profile), 4 Jan 2019 @ 8:34am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Yeah but...

    "No, I'm saying exactly the same thing you're saying: they're going to watch derivatives of their now-public-domain works like a hawk to make sure they only contain public-domain components."

    Ah, ok that makes sense then. I've not really looked at the different variations of Mickey in that much detail to pick up the red short reference.

    I'm not happy as such, but I'd rather the situation where they do that and allow non-Disney properties to be public domain as they belong, than the alternative of them locking it up again, even if there's a slim change the changes will be rolled back.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  34. identicon
    Châu, 4 Jan 2019 @ 4:39pm

    Easy

    In movie "Safety Last!", last part main character climb building for get 1000$ US (really he want his friend climb for him) and reach his girl friend at top. He need fight pigeons, net, dog, clock, etc, when climb. Great idea for 2D game.

    National Geographic magazine also have King Tut pictures in 1923.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  35. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Jan 2019 @ 1:14am

    Re: Re: Yeah but...

    Five actually, it'll be released on Jan 1 2024.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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