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Old 11-17-2002, 01:31 PM   #1
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I know some of you have been around the Mud community as long or longer than I, and as someone who is coding their own Mud code from scratch, I thought I would throw out a scenario and see what you guys think.

I decided awhile ago that I wanted to code my own Mud.  My version of ROM has become spagetti code, and I am basically thinking about making a PayToPlay Mud and know that I can't use ROM due to its copyright rules.

I've been playing on the ROM codebase since 1992 (when it was just Russ' mud and not a base yet), and have been coding on/in it since they publicly released it (in 1993 or whenever that was).  I know the code very well, and like its design and ideas.  I even tend to think in ROMized C code.

I am coding from scratch, but have been so heavily influenced by ROM since I've been coding in it for almost 10 years.  I like the ROM feel of Mud's more than any other base and will probably keep a similar (but not exact) feel in my Mud.  I intuitively understand its' structures, design, and program flow and will probably end up coding something similar to it.

So my question is this:  Where does influence and inspiration end and derivative and copying begin?  If no code is being copied and pasted or being reused at all, are there any other dangers or possible copyright infringement?  I will not copy other people's work, but I don't want it to appear as if I am either!  It is like being "trained" by a company, and when moving on to your next job, you bring the habits and rules with you that you learned.

Sorry it's so long!  Any ideas you might have will help me and others in the future I am sure.

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Old 11-17-2002, 05:34 PM   #2
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I don't think you can ignore the possibility that you will be in breach of copyright.

You are deliberately setting out to produce something with a similar "look and feel", and your familiarity with ROM coding means that you will be reproducing parts of the code structure and style, even if the code isn't deliberately copied.

The two "ideal" solutions, which probably aren't possible in your circumstances, would be to use the "clean room" approach (ie put together a design spec, which could be as close to ROM as you like, and get the actual coding done by a non-ROM coder, preferably a non-mud coder) or to get a licence for VME and use that to cover the fact your mud could be a derivative of that.

In practical terms your question comes down to 2 things :
(a) "Will the diku authors sue for breach of copyright ?" (or merc, or ROM). Probably not, unless they are tempted by the huge financial success of the mud
(b) "Will other mud owners/coders/players regard it as a ROM ripoff?". More difficult to predict - probably players won't be interested, but many in the mud community can be sceptical about such matters, and short of publishing your code it's difficult to see how you can disprove it.
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Old 11-17-2002, 06:45 PM   #3
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I don't know much about copyright laws. But this is what I see:

Internet Explorer 5.5 and Netscape 7 look amost exactily the same.

So does MS Word and Word Perfect, and Corel Draw and Adobe Photoshop.

If you are building your own mud from scratch, not using their code and not trying to duplicate their code but having a similar feel at the end you shouldn't have any problems.

From what I've seen its a pretty good idea anyways to make your mud similar (command / look-feel wise) to the most common mud types out there.

This doesn't have to do with copyright, if you are coding a mud from scratch you may want to browse through the other mu*s out there to get some more ideas.

Just like if you wanted to make a Sci-Fi mud it probably would be a good idea to read as much about the genre as possible. Not just L. Ron Hubbard but Douglas Adams, Frank Herbert, Philip K. Dick, William Gibson, and Neil Stephenson.

In the long run it could give you a few more ideas outside of ROM.

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Old 11-17-2002, 07:06 PM   #4
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Merc2 is a perfect example of what you are trying to do.

Merc2's a derivitive of Diku. It did not use any Diku code. Did not use anything other than Diku as a "reference" in some instances, with the exact same stuff that you've outlined.

It's a 100% no go.

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Old 11-17-2002, 07:41 PM   #5
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The difference, trespassor, is that Lanthum has seen and even worked extensively with the ROM code.  Where copyright rulings are concerned, seeing and working with the actual code is very different than seeing and working with an interface.

Your operating system analogy would be more consistent with a situation in which someone who has played on a ROM mud, but never saw the code, decided to write an original code with results comparable to the ROM mud they played.

(Of course, that isn't to say that copying an interface is necessarily okay either, even if the code itself is original. I'm just saying that the distinction is generally considered a lot less grey if a designer has extensive knowledge of the inner workings of the product they are emulating.)
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Old 11-17-2002, 08:36 PM   #6
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I don't believe that "look and feel" can usually be copyrighted. However, there are cases where apparent similarities in it lead to problems - for example where the lawyers for J K Rowling insisted on change in the cover of a book which was "too similar" to the Harry Potter series - though in this case the wealth backing those lawyers no doubt played a part.

In this case, creating the a mud with the look and feel of ROM is likely to result in the presumption that it is a ROM derivative, specially when the creator is an experienced ROM coder, and the problem is how to rebut that assumption.

In the case of the examples quoted by Trespassor, I don't agree that the look and feel are particularly "similar" - there are similarities imposed by the Windows interface, and by the functions which the products perform, but to me their appearance is substantially different.
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Old 11-17-2002, 11:29 PM   #7
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Xerox lost its look-and-feel case against Apple for the WIMP interface (Window Icon Mouse Program). The result is now even Bill Gates can pretend to have the same thing in Windows.

If you are writing your mud from scratch (really from scratch, not a function-by-function rewrite like some people try) and have plenty of your own unique internal features it doesn't matter how much you may have seen the other guy's code - you are PERFECTLY legal, but this does not prevent the other guy from making claims that you are not.

My advice is to do yours better than the original ROM but have your internals based upon mechanics inspired by something built after ROM. Then any lawsuit by ROM looks like sour grapes.

The purpose of any copyright is NOT to prevent the rest of the world from making new developments, it is only to recognize the author's legitimate right to defend the fruit of their own labor from theft - which I understand you are NOT planning to steal.
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Old 11-18-2002, 01:06 AM   #8
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Computer Associates International, Inc. v. Altai, Inc. is almost directly on point. 982 F.2d 693 (2d Cir. 1992). In Altai, a coder was working for CA and left to work for Altai. Altai asked him to create a program similar to one he had been working on at CA. He did so, but incorporated 30% of the code directly from a program he worked on at CA. Once Altai found out, they removed the 30% and rewrote that part completely from scratch. CA sued, claiming that the rewritten part violated CA's copyright.

The first thing to realize about copyright law is that it does not protect an idea, only an expression of the idea. However, compared to purely aesthetic works, computer programs contain sets of functions essential to the program. The court conlcuded "those elements of a computer program that are necessarily incidental to its function are similarily unprotectable." The court therefore enacted a filtration process to separate the protectable from the unprotectable portions of computer programs.

Congress recognized the applicability of the merger doctrine to computer programs. CONTU stated:

Originally Posted by
Copyrighted language may be copied without infringing when there is but a limited number of ways to express a given idea .... In the computer context, this means that when specific instructions, even though previously copyrighted, are the only and essential means of accomplishing a given task, their later use by another will not amount to infringement.
The court recognized that
Originally Posted by
programmers generally strive to create programs that meet the user's needs in the most efficient manner
and therefore there is an efficiency concern.

Originally Posted by
Efficiency concerns may so narrow the practical range of choice to make only one or two forms of expression workable oprtions. ... Thus, since evidence of similarity efficient structure is not particulary probative of copying, it should be disregarded in the overall substantial similarity analysis.
The court also noted that:
Originally Posted by
The interest of copyright law is not in simply conferring a monopoly on industrious persons, but in advancing the public welfare through rewarding artistic creativity, in a manner that permits the free use and development of non-protectable ideas and processes."
In summary, working on one codebase does not automatically preclude one from ever working on a new one. If you attempt to create what is essentially a recreation of the codebase, you are definitely pushing it. However, if you attempt to create a new codebase and limit your copying to essentially functional elements (in the name of efficiency), you should be OK. Being influenced by the work of another does not automatically mean you are creating a derivative or copy. After all, most works are influenced, consciously or subconsciously, by something else.
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