Legality of copying code and what is too similar?


Hello i have created a game for a while which i aim to publish on steam. It looks a lot like zelda but have a lot of original ideas. I make my crude art with the NES 8-bit palette in asperite(self limitation). The art is not final. But now 6 months in i realise I havent read up on what you can and cannot do. Now im scared that i have made something that is too similar. I havent really looked at the nes games almost at all. I have used the flexible inventory systems code (can be found in forums) as a base and worked my own feautures onto that. And ive looked at tutorials on youtube how to start a Zelda-type game and used that code as a base for my own. some is a straight copy. If any developer who has released games on steam can shed a light on what i can and cannot do would be much appreciated. What can i copy codewise, what mechanics can i use without being sued. And what is really going to get me in trouble and what is wrong but almost impossible to catch. And lastly can i use the fonts that is in gamemaker like Arial etc in a commercial game? any help would be much appreciated :)

Thank you so much in advance!


This is what my game looks like much of the art is just placeholder but the style and look is correct.


Firehammer Games
Code...generally what you find on forums is safe to use, and is provided knowing that it will be used. So unless the flexible inventory system is an asset that you didn't buy and you somehow obtained illegally, you should be fine there. The same generally applies to tutorials. You should be able to use code you got from them. That said, it is better in the long run that you not just copy/paste tutorials and code, rather you take the time to learn what they are actually doing. For some people they need to actually type it themselves, others can copy/paste and just analyze it to figure things out.

Art(NES palette)- you can't copyright a palette last I heard. Just using the 52(I think) color palette from the NES is not going to cause you any issues, and in fact, it has been done by plenty of others, specifically Shovel Knight(with a couple of additions due to lack of browns if I remember it correctly). Art can even be similar, and often is, but it can't be the same as something else in general. Style is also something that can be copied, and often is. The trick is to simply make your own, even if it is inspired by others' styles

Mechanics/Gameplay - this is very much similar to the abovementioned art paragraph. Gameplay can and very often is copied. What cannot be copied(except for actual parody) are trademarked characters, places, etc... You can likely get away with a guy in a green shirt wielding a sword, bow and arrow, etc... but you can't name him "Link," He can't live in Hyrule, and He can't rescue Princess Zelda.

Fonts - this is generally a gray area. I read somewhere that supposedly it is legal to use fonts included on your system found on your computer, because you aren't distributing the fonts themselves, rather "renderings" of them. That said, I would not fully trust that. You are much better off finding free fonts out there on sites like, and many others. Not only do you reduce risk of legal issues, but you probably want something more unique(at the least better styled) for your game.

Going by the picture, I see nothing wrong there. I don't know where the font came from, and I'm assuming the graphics are placeholders you yourself drew. If that is correct, then you should be fine. I see what does indeed appear to be the NES palette, but nothing there specifically says Zelda except for the single color ground and the rocks a little bit. But I see nothing that looks like you would get any legal issues coming.


šŸ§ *penguin noises*
GMC Elder
Don't get copyright and trademark mixed up.

Copyright means you can't steal someone else's work. Licensing text might allow you to use some work in some way (tutorials should have clear licenses that you're allowed to copypaste their code directly, for instance) but unless explicitly stated that you can, you cannot use a work as part of your own work.

Trademarks means that you aren't allowed to make something similar enough to an existing product that customers will get confused whether your knockoff is official; it requires a lot of paperwork so usually only big companies do it. As an example, UPS has trademarked the brown color they're using, so other transport companies aren't allowed to paint their cars in similar shades of brown. Even if you make something custom, you can get in trouble if it's too similar (note the emphasis on "misleading customers" - if a stupid grandma can't tell which thing is official out of your game and an authentic Zelda cartridge, you're doing a clear trademark violation). You could get away with some similarities (character design, game name, etc) but you shouldn't push your luck too hard - try to have one major similarity at most.

Super Box Maker got removed from steam due to a mix of copyright and trademark violations, it appears to have been made using reverse-engineered Super Mario Maker code because for some reason it had the Mario 1 overworld theme play as you place blocks:


Firehammer Games
Yeah, that Box Maker is pretty obvious...they even left all the little Xs from when you die...the sound effects are very similar if not equal, and the level clear screen looks the same too. The issue here(if they had not used Mario Maker's code) is simply that it is indeed very similar, looking like a basic sprite swap, and not even a complete one at that. If they had actually done a platformer/level maker that was similar, but using their own assets from the start and not copying almost directly everything(which is what happens in this case due to code stealing), they wouldn't have had an issue. The gameplay isn't the issue, its the too close similarity that is the issue.