COPYRIGHT LAW PROTECTS VIDEO GAMES
(This is an archived case summary.)
Arctic International sold two types of circuit boards for coin-operated video games. The first increased the rate of play of "Galaxian" a video game that Midway owned the rights to. The second chip produced images and sounds almost identical to "PacMan" the rights to which Midway also owned. The second chip did not copy the program of PacMan, however it produced an almost identical game.
The first question the court had to decide was whether or not the "audio visual works" protected by the 1976 Copyright Act was broad enough to include video games. The two concerns were that the images were not in a fixed sequence and the sequence was changed by the players of the game. The court held that the first concern was not a bar to the Midway's case as it had already been decided that the act applied where the sequence of images was varied. Likewise, it analogized that the variance in the sequence of games to an individual watching television and changing the channels, thereby changing the sequence of images. The player does not have the ability to create any sequence of images and sounds and therefore they are more akin to someone changing channels than they are to an author of a new audio/visual work.
The court also held that the chip that increased the speed of play of Galaxian created an "accelerated" version of the game which was a derivative work. Having found that the video games were protected by the Copyright Act and that Arctic had likely infringed upon those rights, the court upheld the lower courts preliminary injunction prohibiting Arctic from distributing and producing its chips.
Midway Mfg. Co. v. Arctic International Inc.