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How to develop your own board games without violating copyrights.

In Germany, copyright law is a complex issue. Therefore, to avoid violating any laws, you should first familiarize yourself with the relevant laws. Among the most important laws you should consider when developing a board game are the Copyright Act (UrhG) and the Trademark Act (MarkenG). The Copyright Act regulates who can have a work protected as the author and what rights the author has. The Trademark Act regulates how a trademark is protected and what rights the trademark owner has. What precautions should be taken to avoid infringing copyrights? In order not to violate any copyrights, you should take some precautions when developing your board game. For one, you should make sure that your game board and all other components of the game were designed by you and not, say, copied from another game developer or designer. Secondly, you should make sure that the rules of your game were also developed by you and not, for example, copied from another game developer or designer. This is because the rules of a board game can also be protected by copyright under certain circumstances. Whether this is the case, however, is complicated in detail. What happens if you infringe copyrights? Violating copyrights can have different consequences. On the one hand, you can be prosecuted under civil law. But criminal consequences are also quite possible. However, this requires a commercial scale.

In more serious cases, this may even result in imprisonment. Therefore, you should always carefully inform yourself and think carefully before deciding whether and how you want to develop a board game.

Rules of the game and copyright

Before you start developing your own board game, you should find out about the legal framework. This is because copyright protects not only the overall work, but also the individual rules of the game. This means that when creating a new game, you cannot simply copy or change the rules of another game. However, there are some exceptions to copyright, including the so-called principle of free use. According to this, a work may be used for the purpose of criticism, teaching or research. Some other uses are also allowed. This means that, among other things, you may take the rules of another game as a template for your own game if you are critical or satirical about it. However, this is not easy to implement. Whether game rules are protected or whether they are not creative enough to be protectable can be a difficult question of demarcation, which is often part of the consulting practice in computer games as well as in board games.

Game material and the copyright?

When developing a board game, you must also consider the rights to the game materials. These include figures, cards, game plans and other materials necessary for the production of the game. Depending on your idea, you can design and make some or all of the elements yourself, but sometimes it’s best to use available options. There are many ways to respect copyright when designing a board game. One option is to download materials from third-party providers such as OpenClipArt or Pixabay. These sites offer royalty-free graphics and images that you can integrate into your game. However, if you need more control over your design, you can also hire a professional illustrator to help you – as long as the rights to the design remain with the designer. Overall, copyright is essential in the development of a board game. It is important to understand and follow the regulations so as not to infringe on any third party rights while creating a high quality product.

Game must not be based on famous brands, computer games or movies

It is important to keep in mind when developing a board game that it must not be based on well-known brands, computer games or movies. There are many legal pitfalls in developing a game. If you try to develop a board game that strongly resembles, for example, another computer game, you can easily infringe copyrights. Even if you try to align yourself with certain brands and use them in your game, litigation can result. If you want to make sure that your game does not violate copyrights, you should always use your own ideas and concepts. Also, avoid using the name or logo of brands. If your game is similar to a well-known board game or computer game, be sure to try to make your game as different from the original as possible. By adding new mechanisms or changing other aspects of the game (for example, the number of players), you significantly reduce the risk of litigation.

Can ideas be protected in Germany?

In Germany, ideas for board games cannot be copyrighted, but that does not mean they are not protectable. In some cases, you can use design or patent law to protect your game idea. However, this depends on the type of game and the details of its implementation.

Design protection is a way to protect your design, especially the visual design of your game. A design protection is applied to very specific features of the design so that other game manufacturers cannot use similar designs. However, it is important to note that design protection is a national protection – it is only valid in the country where you apply for it.

A patent is another way of granting your ideas valid law. A patent protects how a product or process works and thus provides broader protection than design protection. However, patent protection is very extensive and expensive and requires a lot of time and research to meet all the requirements.

In most cases, however, it might be difficult to protect an idea. This does not mean that ideas of others can be completely adopted, because warnings can still threaten from the area of competition law; moreover, the market rarely reacts particularly well to “clumsy” copies.


In this article I tried to briefly show how to develop your own board games without violating copyrights. There are many ways to get inspiration. However, you should always ask yourself whether these “copies” are legal or not. If not, it is better to develop your own ideas.

Marian Härtel

Marian Härtel

Marian Härtel is a lawyer and entrepreneur specializing in copyright law, competition law and IT/IP law, with a focus on games, esports, media and blockchain.

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