'Manic Miner/Jet Set Willy' Intellectual Property Rights

SymbolShift

Member
I have been developing a MM/JSW inspired game for some time, in GMS2. The game will be free, and is intended for the enjoyment of the MM/JSW fan community. However, I recently discovered that Elite Systems (since 2019) now hold the intellectual property rights for both Manic Miner & Jet Set Willy, as referenced in the legal document below. It's a complex situation, since Matthew Smith still insists that he holds the rights to the games (but cannot legally prove), and has always been cool with fan released games.

https://drive.google.com/file/d/1X-cGCu4azEog1bml5J6zxI5Fv8dT8iP2/view


To clear things up, I contacted Steve Wilcox at Elite to receive clarification on to following questions:

Am I permitted to use any of the sprites, graphics, sound effects, music from the original ZX Spectrum MM/JSW games?
Can my game be released (for free) on Google Play Store, Apple App Store, etc?
Am I required to mention 'Elite Systems Ltd' in the game credits?


I received a brief response stating:

Our position on the matter is as outlined in Link Legals statement, which you reference.
Without sight of the 'MM/JSW inspired retro game' of which you wrote (and in the absence of the necessary further information to evaluate the likely commercial impact of your proposed activity) we're not able to elaborate on Link Legal's statement and we reserve all of our rights.
Regards - Steve Wilcox, Director & Co-founder


I appreciate a response from Steve, but he dodges the questions and the vagueness continues, as it did in the document. The document does not breakdown usage rights of sprites, graphics, sound effects or music, and just clumps everything under an 'intellectual rights' umbrella. I need specifics on what I can and cannot use. They can't exactly say "oh, that's a guy that jumps around on platforms, that's an infringement!". I also do not feel comfortable with sending an 'evaluation' version of my game, which is far from finished.

Has Elite realized that there is no longer money to be made from selling their games (as they tried with mobile versions), and decided there is more money to be made from suing individuals? I hope I am wrong, but If this is true, it is very sad. Especially from Elite, who have a huge catalog of ZX Spectrum games that are cherished by many. Not only that, but the one thing that has kept the MM/JSW legacy alive all these years are the countless clones, mods and homages. If people are afraid to develop more games due to copyright infringement, is this the death of MM/JSW as we know it? From a legal perspective Matthew Smith was 'just the programmer', but I can't help feel that he has been screwed out of his own creations. It's games like MM/JSW that got many of us into programming in the first place.

I'm at the point where I don't know if should spend any more time and move forward with this project.

Does anyone have thoughts or suggestions?
Thanks!
 
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Elodman

Member
Grüss Gott,

no experience in legal thingies, but if your one is gonna be a freeware, and currently they don't sell anything that might resemble your creation, ie you don't "compete" with them, then how could you make them any damaging act, on which base could they sue u?

waiting for pyjamarama, js willy, etc remakes.
 

SymbolShift

Member
I've always been under the assumption "if you're not making money from it, then it's not copyright infringement", but Google tells me this is not true. If the "assets" of the original games fall under their "intellectual rights" umbrella, can they still sue? maybe, maybe not. I'm no lawyer either. I just know that to spend a ton of time on a game, and then be on the receiving end of a law suit, would be frustrating to say the least!
 

Rayek

Member
It's complicated. A remake or a fan game based on existing game's IP and character(s) might be free, but still harm the marketplace by just existing. Fair use is generally judged on a case-per-case basis, although being 'free' (not commercial) is in favour of 'fair use'.

In this particular case Elite told you pretty much to hold off on any work of a Manic Miner/JSW remake. Or in any case, using that IP and its uniquely identifiable characters and graphics.

Take for example the creators of Banjo-Kazooie: they were not allowed to maintain the same characters and IP, but created a spiritual successor called Yooka-Laylee. Same core mechanics and features, but starring different characters and levels, as well as new graphic assets.

So why not create a spiritual successor/clone instead, and avoid all this legal mess. What I've read about it in Retro Gamer magazine and on the retro sites makes me want to stay far away from that minefield.

Call it Manic Gilly, starring a female character. Keep the same mechanics, create you own graphics.
 

SymbolShift

Member
It's complicated. A remake or a fan game based on existing game's IP and character(s) might be free, but still harm the marketplace by just existing. Fair use is generally judged on a case-per-case basis, although being 'free' (not commercial) is in favour of 'fair use'.

In this particular case Elite told you pretty much to hold off on any work of a Manic Miner/JSW remake. Or in any case, using that IP and its uniquely identifiable characters and graphics.

Take for example the creators of Banjo-Kazooie: they were not allowed to maintain the same characters and IP, but created a spiritual successor called Yooka-Laylee. Same core mechanics and features, but starring different characters and levels, as well as new graphic assets.

So why not create a spiritual successor/clone instead, and avoid all this legal mess. What I've read about it in Retro Gamer magazine and on the retro sites makes me want to stay far away from that minefield.

Call it Manic Gilly, starring a female character. Keep the same mechanics, create you own graphics.
Thanks for that Rayek. It is certainly an option for me to think about. My game currently incorporates the original sprites and sound fx, with many new sprites I plan to create. The reason for incorporating original assets was to keep the nostalgic feel of the original games, to make the player feel at home, if you will. As you say, avoiding the minefield maybe my best option.
 

Japster

Member
B
Thanks for that Rayek. It is certainly an option for me to think about. My game currently incorporates the original sprites and sound fx, with many new sprites I plan to create. The reason for incorporating original assets was to keep the nostalgic feel of the original games, to make the player feel at home, if you will. As you say, avoiding the minefield maybe my best option.
Bearing in mind this was the same guy who pretty much pounced on a grieving widow AT A FUNERAL to appropriate such rights (after claiming to have them already, to those he threatened prior, but clearly NOT), IIRC, and has been a fan of litigation (or threats of it) for a long time, I think that the advice here is sound...

If people know that it was 'inspired' by these loved classics, and you keep the original flavour (PS - I'd HIGHLY recommend Mike's blog on re-creating Spectrum gfx, colour-clash et all, it's excellent!), single colour sprites etc, then I'm sure that people will adopt and love it. PS- Someone also made the fantastic Multiplayer Jet Set Willy Online, but I think a single player tribute would be awesome!

As advised, maybe have a riff or spin off the original - Get Set / Jet Set Wily, Manic Minor (or Minter, Marnie, Minah? :) ), etc....

GFX should be easy to make alternative wacky versions of / inspirations from, but happy to help with anything if I can, mate... :D
 
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SymbolShift

Member
My concern is that, if it does not contain the original graphics, that it may not feel like MM/JSW, and missing the magic. I may just keep everything as-is, and deal with the situation if it should ever occur. I assume they send warnings before getting lawyers involved. Someone on another forum suggested that I should, in the credits, try and direct traffic to purchase Elite's versions, which could help my case.
 
My concern is that, if it does not contain the original graphics, that it may not feel like MM/JSW, and missing the magic.
You're more concerned about that than ripping the assets from a game and getting caught by the owners of the IP and then potentially sued?
I assume they send warnings before getting lawyers involved.
You can't assume that. They have already told you that they will reserve the rights to their IP, so as that could technically be seen as giving you warning they may just go right after you with the lawyers as you will have clearly disregarded the warning that they gave you upfront.
Someone on another forum suggested that I should, in the credits, try and direct traffic to purchase Elite's versions, which could help my case.
Based on what Elite originally said to you, this seems like a really bad idea.

Just as others are saying: make a fan game or sequel based on their IP, using your own assets.
 

Japster

Member
My concern is that, if it does not contain the original graphics, that it may not feel like MM/JSW, and missing the magic. I may just keep everything as-is, and deal with the situation if it should ever occur. I assume they send warnings before getting lawyers involved. Someone on another forum suggested that I should, in the credits, try and direct traffic to purchase Elite's versions, which could help my case.
I guess, in which case keep quiet about it until you're done, then spread it far and wide... then you can't really action a C&D / takedown request, as it's out of your hands and flying free - if ppl love the game, they'll mirror it across the Internet... ;)

(Ironically, this is the SAME guy who also asked for games for his 'recreated Spectrum' and then proceeded to NOT pay any of our childhood heroes a penny of the promised payments for letting him use their games on the service...)
 

SymbolShift

Member
You're more concerned about that than ripping the assets from a game and getting caught by the owners of the IP and then potentially sued?

You can't assume that. They have already told you that they will reserve the rights to their IP, so as that could technically be seen as giving you warning they may just go right after you with the lawyers as you will have clearly disregarded the warning that they gave you upfront.

Based on what Elite originally said to you, this seems like a really bad idea.

Just as others are saying: make a fan game or sequel based on their IP, using your own assets.
BGS, why did you have to be so... right?? I'm just messing with you. Deep down I know you are correct, it's just a shame really. I think many remakes in the past have got away with it, but not under the new Elite IP era. I appreciate your input.
 

SymbolShift

Member
I guess, in which case keep quiet about it until you're done, then spread it far and wide... then you can't really action a C&D / takedown request, as it's out of your hands and flying free - if ppl love the game, they'll mirror it across the Internet... ;)

(Ironically, this is the SAME guy who also asked for games for his 'recreated Spectrum' and then proceeded to NOT pay any of our childhood heroes a penny of the promised payments for letting him use their games on the service...)
Same guy, as in SW? Out of interest, since Elite holds the IP, is that a global IP or UK only? I ask, since I was born in the UK, but live overseas. Probably makes no difference.
 

Nocturne

Friendly Tyrant
Forum Staff
Admin
LOL! This guy at Elite is just a con man... I mean, how else do you explain this????

But fun and games aside, I honestly wouldn't mess with these people. The whole thing seems like a legal mess and while I suspect that anything Elite and SW do would lose in court due to the practically impossible-to-prove history of the IP, I don't think it's worth the time, money, or stress to put yourself in that position. I'd just change the GFX and rebrand... I mean, I'm making a Jet Set Willy hommage too, and I called it "Lab Rat Jonny"! Nothing suable there, but instantly recognisable as a hommage to the original.

PS: If you want to check out what I'm making:
 

SymbolShift

Member
Yep.... Here are a couple of articles mate:-

The Register Article - Unpaid Royalties
Guardian Article - Unpaid Royalties

Then there's THIS TWEET...

View attachment 43576

Here are some 'Friendly Letters' from SW regarding the above ;) ....
Wow, thanks Japster for the eye-opening links. Seems like a nasty piece of work, that could not care less about the classic games, just making money. Does not seem like the kind of person you want to mess with. Not sure if he has any real legal power behind him, but he could have legal people at his disposal that do not fully understand the history behind the IP, and has convinced them somehow that he is the owner.

Make's you wonder if Elite has always been dodgy. First release is Kokotoni Wilf (JSW with wings?), then Roller Coaster (another JSW clone). I'm going to see if I can contact Horsenburger and see if there's an update since 2019. Note, the Link Legal statement is dated 3 days after Horsenburger's tweet ended.
 

SymbolShift

Member
LOL! This guy at Elite is just a con man... I mean, how else do you explain this????

But fun and games aside, I honestly wouldn't mess with these people. The whole thing seems like a legal mess and while I suspect that anything Elite and SW do would lose in court due to the practically impossible-to-prove history of the IP, I don't think it's worth the time, money, or stress to put yourself in that position. I'd just change the GFX and rebrand... I mean, I'm making a Jet Set Willy hommage too, and I called it "Lab Rat Jonny"! Nothing suable there, but instantly recognisable as a hommage to the original.

PS: If you want to check out what I'm making:
A white humanoid character that jumps around on platforms? talk about infringement! lol, LRJ looks great! excellent work.
 

otterZ

Member
Just be careful you are not being baited, as in not pushing against what you are doing until you release it, with some vague non committal reply but just waiting, as now you are on the radar - then slapping you with a bill or face legal proceedings as soon as you release it.

Would be perfectly okay to release a retro game with the same colours and type of game mechanics as long as it is an original idea (as much as possible anyhow) - they can't sue you for rhyming titles as in "Goat Get Billy".

I loved Jet Set Willy and Spy vs. Spy on the Spectrum, plus Marble Madness and Skool Daze. Those rubber keys had a unique feel to them - seemed to press down at different angles but still can't help but love them :) That was when gamers were divided into Spectrum fans and Commodore fans - good memories . . . when dinosaurs still wandered the earth.
 
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SymbolShift

Member
Just be careful you are not being baited, as in not pushing against what you are doing until you release it, with some vague non committal reply but just waiting, as now you are on the radar - then slapping you with a bill or face legal proceedings as soon as you release it.

Would be perfectly okay to release a retro game with the same colours and type of game mechanics as long as it is an original idea (as much as possible anyhow) - they can't sue you for rhyming titles as in "Goat Get Billy".

I loved Jet Set Willy and Spy vs. Spy on the Spectrum, plus Marble Madness and Skool Daze. Those rubber keys had a unique feel to them - seemed to press down at different angles but still can't help but love them :) That was when gamers were divided into Spectrum fans and Commodore fans - good memories . . . when dinosaurs still wandered the earth.
I get that feeling also. I did respond to the email, but never received anything back. Almost like he is just waiting to pounce. The question still remains if he has any true legal power at all, so it's a gamble. I know people that have threatened legal action against him and he has backed down. I've always been a loyal Spectrum fan and never had any interest in the C64 (yes, sound chip was superior), but that C64 colour palette was just plain awful. That's a whole different conversation :)
 
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