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Pausing the Game: Esports Developers’ Copyright Claims to Prevent or Restrict Tournament Play

Posted by on Wednesday, April 13, 2022 in Notes, Volume 24, Volume 24, Issue 1.

Alexander Tu | 24 Vand. J. Ent. & Tech. L. 191 (2021)

Unlike traditional sports, esports are-—at their core—-video games, which must be designed and programmed by a game company. These video game developers are the copyright owners of the esports titles they create, which, in turn, results in continued developer control even after a player has purchased or downloaded the game. Because there is no relevant court precedent that is directly applicable to the world of esports, game developers unimpededly exert their copyright authority in order to restrict third-party tournaments that utilize their games, and in some cases, prevent those events from occurring altogether. This use of copyright authority is an overly broad construction of copyright law that deprives gaming communities of valuable events and fails to protect one of the most important interests of the copyright holder: consumer trust.

This Note argues that control over third-party tournaments does not fall within the rights guaranteed to copyright owners by the Copyright Act of 1976. While esports developers should maintain some level of control over their titles, the right to conduct tournaments for their games is one that should not be held exclusively. This Note proposes a compulsory licensing scheme for esports titles as a superior alternative to the current approach. After publishing its game, a developer would register its title with a licensing collective, which could grant conditional licenses to any third party that wishes to organize tournaments using that game. This scheme sufficiently balances the interests of both video-game developers and third-party tournament organizers.

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Alexander Tu