Provocative new copyright for Magic: The Gathering cards raises unusual questions
The history of Magic: The Gathering has a curious new chapter. It was published earlier this year by Dr Robert Hovden was an academic and a legal provocateur who copyrighted his own deck of cards. First reported on by author, activist, and journalist Cory Doctorow on Sunday, the successful filing with the United States Copyright Office raises several curious questions about the future of the original collectable card game.
All members of the larger Magic community, from casual players to professional gamers, create their own decks. This is the essence of the game. They even give them personalities, with names keyed to their strategies, their core mechanics, their dominant colours of mana, or sometimes just the characters found inside. But, it seems that no one has copyrighted those decks.
Enter Hovden. He is an assistant professor of materials science, engineering at the University of Michigan. He may be remembered for a 2014 stunt in which he printed M.C. Escher uses nanoscale lithography with tiny silicon disks. From Doctorow’s article, published on Medium:
Wizards of the Coast released Magic in 1993 after Richard Garfield had designed it. Over the years, the company has been aggressive at protecting its intellectual property, most recently going to court over a game that it claimed was “blatant and willful misappropriation and infringement of some of Wizards’ most valuable intellectual property assets.” In fact, Wizards legal team is a major reason why no other game developer in their right mind will ever tell players to “tap” cards in their game. You can “bow”, you can “exhaust” cards, but you should never tap them accidentally.
Doctorow points out that competitive Magic is about creating the best deck to win on the tournament circuit. What does this mean for players?
Doctorow doesn’t answer that question, but he does highlight an amazing collection of legal documents that you can access to find out more. We’ll have to wait and see what Magic players do. And how Wizards responds.
What happens to a copyrighted deck? One that includes rare and powerful cards, but also cards designed to win? What legal manoeuvres will the owner of these cards need to do to protect their investment?
France is the second-biggest producer of video games in the world. Franchises like Assassin’s Creed, Dishonored, Life is Strange, and … whatever the hell David Cage is doing come from French-based companies. So France has had a huge influence on gaming globally. But what you might not know is how weird and counter-cultural some of France’s early games are.