How to Get a Card Game Copyrighted

By Tom Speranza, J.D.

How to Get a Card Game Copyrighted

By Tom Speranza, J.D.

If you've created a new card game, you may be wondering how to protect your idea. Copyright is a form of legal protection for intellectual property that grants the authors of original, creative works—including literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works—the exclusive rights to reproduce and perform such works (and license others to do so), to create derivative works based on the original work, and to prevent unauthorized third parties from exercising those rights.

Woman in flannel playing card game with friends while laughing and wearing headphones around her neck

Automatic Protection vs. Copyright Registration

According to U.S. and international law, your card game is automatically protected by copyright the moment you create it in a tangible form, whether physically tangible or perceptible with the aid of a machine or device (such as a game played on a television, phone, or computer).

Registering the card game with the U.S. Copyright Office is not mandatory but can provide some additional advantages:

  • More detailed public notice of your rights—applications and registrations and copies of registered works can be searched and retrieved by submitting a request to the Copyright Office and paying the required fees
  • Access to U.S. federal courts if you are suing infringers
  • The right to receive automatic damages and reimbursement of your attorneys' fees if you win your case

How to Register a U.S. Copyright

Registering your work with the Copyright Office is a multiple-step process but, if your creative work does not have complicated content or ownership issues, you can usually complete a registration yourself.

    1. Complete and submit the correct form.

    Registration of a card game is obtained by submitting to the Copyright Office one of these forms:

    • Work of the Visual Arts (Form VA). If the game material you want to protect is primarily the images and design of the cards.
    • Nondramatic Literary Work (Form TX). If the game material you want to protect is primarily the text on the cards and in the rules or the combination of the card's text and images

    2. Pay the required filing fee.

    The filing fee varies depending on if you register online or by mail, if your card game is a single work, if your game has only one author, and whether it's a work made for hire.

    Be sure to consult the Copyright Office's website for the current fee schedule or look through the office's circular for more information.

    3. Submit deposit material.

    With any application, you must submit deposit material, which can be a tangible copy of the card game itself if it doesn't exceed the Copyright Office's size limits or identifying material for the game, such as photos of the physical cards. An electronic version of the game might require screenshots showing the visual elements or a copy of the underlying software code depending on the creative content you're trying to protect.

    If you need additional help when registering a card game, the Copyright Office has published guidelines for registering tangible games and video games.

    4. Place a copyright notice on your game.

    Although not required by law, placing a notice on the tangible copies of your game or on the title page of its electronic version puts the world on notice that you own the rights to the game. A copyright notice typically contains three elements:

    An example is: © John Smith 2018.

    The Copyright Office provides more detailed advice about how and when to use these notices.

    Duration of Copyright Protection

    The law protects your card game for a very long time. The term of copyright under U.S. law is:

    • The life of the author plus 70 additional years.
    • If a work has multiple authors, the term is the life of the longest surviving author plus 70 years.
    • For works owned by a business entity, such as a corporation or limited liability company, the term is 120 years after the work's creation or 95 years after its publication (whichever period is shorter).

    If you're unsure about the term of protection for your specific creation, the Copyright Office offers resources for further reading and details on the topic.

    The Scope of Copyright

    Copyright protects original works of authorship from unauthorized copying. For a card game, the registration covers the specific words and images on the cards and the gameboard along with the text that makes up the rules. If the game is in electronic form, such as a video game or phone app, sounds and computer code may also be protected.

    Keep in mind that once your card game is made public, the law would not prevent a third party from developing a similar game with similar rules. Copyright only protects the particular text or pictorial material on the cards, gameboard, and container. Or, for a video game, it protects the underlying software code and particular images, sounds, and text.

    This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.