Who owns my game mod?

Modding, the act of creating extensions within games and other platforms, is popular in the video game scene.

What is a game mod?

A game modification, or game mod, alters how a video game may look or behave. Mods are intended to extend and expand gameplay and modders are the individuals or communities that provide these enhancements.

There are a lot of different types of mods – total conversions, overhauls, add-ons, unofficial patches, art and support mods. Mods can add specific features to a game, artistic effects, offer continued support to maintain a game and even alter core parts of a game. Defense of the Ancients (DOTA) is one of the most notable examples of a total conversion as it took the real-time strategy game, Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos, and turned it into a MOBA (an entirely new genre).

The original version of a game that’s unmodified is usually referred to as the vanilla version.

Copyright laws

At their core, game mods are derivative works. A modification needs to run on the original work in order for the mod itself to work. As a game modder, you own some limited copyrights in what you created but what you created is likely copyright infringement.

The easiest way to think about how game mods fit into the copyright scene is to think about an art gallery. Creating a game mod is similar to going into an art gallery, pulling a painting off the wall, and putting a painting inside of the painting. You own what you created but your creation is infringing on the original artist’s copyright to do it unless they’ve given you the right to do it.

It’s not a clear-cut situation

Paid mods are making this situation more complicated, as Valve Corporation found out in 2015 when over 133,000 people signed a petition to end the paid mod feature. Mod packs, groups of mods, also have legal issues. And making things even more complex, mods are often distributed without consent of the original mod creator.