There are many similarities with traditional sports industry and the esports industry. With the absence of a standardized governance structure, esports is predominantly self-organizing and mostly business-driven.
As the esports industry evolves and matures in India, a host of intellectual property (IP) issues are waiting in the wings, raising interesting new questions that our courts will have to deal with. Additionally, in-game purchases, add-on products, and affiliated merchandise, are also important revenue generators. Unlike traditional sports, the central subject of IP protection in eSports is the game itself which the developers own.
While the existing laws may not enable an original game developer or promoter to prevent all the aspects of a game from being copied, a well-defined IP strategy can protect the business interests of game developers and promoters. It gives the developers authority to determine if they want to allow a certain event to take place or not, all the organizations that host esports tournaments need a green light from the devs.
Having these IP rights in one’s pocket can help game rights-holders sue infringers for unauthorized use of games by video streamers and tournament organizers who use trademarks, copyrighted material, or patented products, without gaining permission or acquiring appropriate licenses.
Esport tournament organizers need to ensure that stakeholders obtain the necessary usage rights from game publishers and participating gamers, and these parties are aware of possible ancillary copyrights, and take appropriate precautionary measures to protect them.
The licensing agreements is important to be obtained in order to avoid adverse legal consequences. In the absence of proper guidelines or jurisprudence on the subject, grey areas in the gaming industry remain in abundance. But conventional tools of protection, such as through contractual provisions, are still available, and should be used to the fullest.
India is slowly finding its feet in the space of esports and should cautiously move forward not be tangled in any unnecessary legal complications. Online and video games are the result of long hours of programming, source code development, artwork and graphic design, among many other things, each of which can be protected in some form or other.