E-sports and Intellectual Property.
By: Pablo Armando
Sports fans who, in addition to practicing them, enjoy seeing them in their professional dimension, find today forced to watch old replays of tennis, soccer, rugby, hockey or historic races in TC 2000, F1, NASCAR, etc. The novelty and good news are that we also have a good number of e-sports broadcasts to learn and enjoy these new disciplines.
E-sports allow us to view soccer or tennis matches or races in virtual format where both, professional e-sports players and professional athletes who adapt to this discipline, participate (Author’s note: Don´t miss Kun Agüero transmitting how he plays with his character in a soccer video game).
As a lawyer specialized in Intellectual Property (IP), when seeing these broadcastings, I cannot help but wonder what role intellectual property plays in this activity, and also, in what dimensions and in which scope it reveals.
Of course, the e-sports industry is different from the traditional sports one, and this has an impact on IP.
Among other issues, the software is particularly relevant because it is what allows sports to be brought into the virtual world. The platform or console from which they are played (hardware and, again, software, where the game runs), the names of the games, the broadcasting rights, the exploitation of image rights (names of professional gamers, team names), the sponsors, and even the trademarks that, in turn, sponsor the teams and the players in the analog world, and many other details that this new sports modality presents are also very important.
Let us see some examples and particularities of intellectual property rights and contracts, applied (or related?) to e-sports:
Patents: We see cases of “intelligence” systems to host games and create different game environments adaptable to different scenarios; methods to “match” players in multiplayers scenario; and also, peripheral devices that include video cameras.
Trademarks: They are present both in the names of the games, in the platforms, in the characters‘ names, in the appearances as well as in the sponsors, organizers and team names.
Copyright: Video games, as long as they are original, are broadly protected through copyright whether they are considered software, multimedia works or audiovisual works.
Industrial design: It is mainly present in the aesthetic design of the consoles and peripheral devices used.
Rights Licenses: In general, the use of a video game by an e-sports event organizer requires obtaining the license to be able to use it and make it available to the players. In the case of image rights, the inclusion of the images of the athletes, players or viewers also requires being properly licensed or authorized.
Finally, if trademarks not owned by the organizer are used during an event, the organizer must have the licenses authorizing such use.
Generally speaking, the contracts that regulate these rights and their authorized uses are complex and involve a large number of subjects; but it may also happen that the software or video game producer is who obtains all the licenses, thus facilitating the organization of the e-sport.
Finally, it is necessary to consider the broadcasting rights of the event, which are usually in the head of the organizer or whoever has been designated to transmit it. Typically, the same criteria used for broadcasting “analog” sports events can be applied here.
E-sports are a fascinating and challenging world as regards intellectual property rights, and it is undoubtedly an industry that has come to stay.
Fortunately, the traditional sports industry is still standing, with many opportunities to grow and develop in the future.
Meanwhile, while Argentina remains on lockdown, we, fans, can enjoy the return of the German football, and soon…The Spanish League!