Before I start, I’d like to state that I realize that this topic has been beaten to death, but I’d like this to be a continuing series of posts on intellectual property issues in the video game community, and this situation is fairly straightforward and serves as a good introduction to the major issues at hand.
I’ll admit, Chrono Trigger is a very good game. I prefer Chrono Cross personally, but I understand why so many people consider it among the greatest games of all time. The story is lighthearted with some mature undertones, the battle system is simple to learn but has a surprising amount of depth, and the concept of traveling to different periods of time and having your actions affect future timelines was unique and well executed.
It should come as no surprise, then, that the strong fanbase would want more. Chrono Cross took a rather different approach to the series and was released over 10 years ago, and all fans have had since then are a PS1 port plagued with loading time issues and a DS remake that was well received but didn’t satiate long time fans. Long story short, they wanted a new Chrono game, one with updated graphics and a better connection to (or retcon of) Chrono Cross.
Several fan remakes started popping up starting from the early 2000s, but the most notable ones were Chrono Resurrection, Chrono Trigger: Crimson Echoes, and Chrono Trigger HD. Resurrection was a remake of the original game while Crimson Echoes was an interquel that tied together Chrono Trigger and Chrono Cross. These first two were notable in that Square Enix, owner of the copyrights and trademarks related to Chrono Trigger, sent cease-and-desist letters to the developers of these games claiming trademark and copyright infringement.
Square Enix’s arguments were very strong. As derivative works, 17 U.S.C. § 106 gives the original copyright holders the exclusive rights to prepare such works, so the fans had to seek permission before creating work with Square Enix’s copyrights. While the developers might have claimed fair use under 17 U.S.C. § 107, particularly because they would release the games for free, the preemption of sales that Square Enix would supposedly get by making its own remake is enough of an effect on the potential market to bar the fair use defense. Square Enix had them dead to rights.
Chrono Trigger HD, another attempt at a straight remake using the Unreal engine, is taking a different approach. They have no website and they will not include their names in the credits, hoping that Square Enix will not be able to find out who is infringing their IP. This logic, however, is deeply flawed. As has been noted by Mark Methenitis—a fellow Greek IP lawyer?!—and Zack Bastian, just because they can’t find the original developers doesn’t mean that the game is any less illegal. They’ll use their resources to take down whatever public disclosures they can find, and if the developers want anyone to play the game outside their torrent circle, they’ll probably have to disclose at some point.
Go figure, the law student likes IP protection. Seriously, though, there are a lot of game IP that fans want revisited. Xenogears deserves a proper disc 2. A third Chrono game would sell like crazy. The movement for a Final Fantasy VII remake is stronger than ever. If The Last Story and Mass Effect 3’s Extended Cut have taught us anything, it’s that game companies are listening to fans. If Microsoft is willing to address their Xbox Live harassment issues because of fan promotion of this web video, Square Enix may be willing to hear out Chrono Trigger fans. Infringing their IP is only going to discourage them from creating new content, which is why we have IP protection in the first place.
Of course, this brings up the question of user-generated content in general, such as the mod kits in the Elder Scrolls games, map editors in Starcraft, and level creators in LittleBigPlanet. DayZ is an interesting case as well, being a mod of Arma 2 that eventually became a retail game. But that’s another post.