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Tetris clone loses potentially significant court battle

Landmark case could help combat other copycats.

Dark blue icons of video game controllers on a light blue background
Image credit: Eurogamer

The Tetris Company has successfully argued that block puzzler Mino by Xio Interactive infringed its copyright.

As reported by Gamasutra, a New Jersey court ruled that while it was not legally possible to copyright a game's basic mechanics and ruleset, a developer can protect the manner in which it chooses to express them.

Xio argued that it didn't copy these expressive elements, but the court disagreed, ruling that there is a "substantial similarity" between Tetris and Mino, and that Xio had infringed Tetris Company's copyright. Not only that but its game also constituted unfair competition and false endorsement.

"Xio is correct that one cannot protect some functional aspect of a work by copyright as one would with a patent," read the court's ruling.

"But this principle does not mean, and cannot mean, that any and all expression related to a game rule or game function is unprotectible. Such an exception to copyright would likely swallow any protection one could possibly have; almost all expressive elements of a game are related in some way to the rules and functions of game play."

"Tetris Holding is as entitled to copyright protection for the way in which it chooses to express game rules or game play as one would be to the way in which one chooses to express an idea."

See the clip below for a glimpse of Mino in action.

The verdict could have significant wider implications for the game industry, especially in the iOS and Android space where game cloning is rampant. Zynga's lawyers in particular might well be looking on with interest...

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