Law in the Internet Society
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The Rage Over Streets of Rage Remake

-- By AustinLeach - 25 Oct 2011


This article explores SEGA’s threats to Bombergames’s Streets of Rage Remake, a fan-made freeware PC game based on SEGA’s Streets of Rage franchise, and the intellectual property of videogame software.


Streets of Rage (SOR) is a videogame released in the US in 1991 that spawned sequels SOR 2 and 3 in 1992 and 1994 respectively. SEGA, a console/game manufacturer now turned software developer, developed the for its SEGA Genesis console. These games have since been ported to arcade machines, other game consoles, and handheld devices as late as 2011.

SOR is an action game in the “beat ’em up” genre akin to Double Dragon. Players control characters through various levels, beating up criminals, and acquiring items along the way. SOR featured three characters who, as is explained in the game’s introduction, vowed to combat the crime syndicate plaguing their city. With no further exposition, the plot is told through the gameplay images as one progresses through the game. The sequels feature similar gameplay with enhancements and new characters. SOR 2 has a similar bare-bones story, but SOR 3’s plot is expanded and features cut-scenes with written dialogue between levels. Yuzo Koshiro composed the franchise’s music.

Streets of Rage Remake (Remake) is an unofficial game for PC created by developer BoMbErLiNk? and was offered on The project started March 17, 2003 and was released April 3, 2011. According to Bombergames, Remake is not reverse engineered and does not use a single line of code from the original games. It was developed from the ground up based on “visual interpretation, logic, and comparison of states.” While the game is freeware for the public, the resources (the custom sprites, remixes, artwork, etc.) are not and belong to their respective artists. Remake looks and plays like a modern throwback to the original games. The character models have been updated, the stages are reconstructed bits from the original games, and Koshiro’s “house” music is faithfully remixed. Remake’s story is completely original and is told through cut-scenes resembling SOR 3.

According to BoMbErLiNk, Bombergames contacted SEGA about the project in 2007 by email and sent a formal letter notifying them of the game’s development. It is unclear what the response was, but Bombergames continued developing Remake. Within a week of Remake’s release, SEGA contacted Bombergames and requested that it cease distribution. SEGA released the following statement to a number of videogame websites such as “SEGA is committed to supporting any fans that take an interest in our games, and where possible we do so by involving them in Beta tests and other development, marketing or research opportunities… However we need to protect our intellectual property rights and this may result in us requesting that our fans remove online imagery, videos or games in some instances."

Bombergames has complied, and the game is “officially” unavailable.

The IP at Stake

Videogames may be covered by the traditional forms of intellectual property—copyright, trademark, patent, and trade secret—but only copyright and trademark seem to apply to Remake. Copyright could protect the code, the resulting images for the characters and backgrounds as they appear on screen, the music, the sound effects, and the story. Trademark could also be employed to protect the brand name “Streets of Rage,” the images and likenesses of SOR’s characters and game backgrounds, and perhaps the sound effects if they could be attributable to SOR and Sega.

Resolving for the Consumer

SEGA does have potentially strong infringement claims against Bombergames. However, putting aside the fact that SEGA waited until the final version was released before threatening Bombergames to pull the download links (four beta versions were released in the years prior to 2011), SEGA’s actions beg these questions: is it fair for SEGA to deny a developer’s efforts 8 years in the making, when SEGA itself has not developed a new Streets of Rage game in almost 20 years? Does such an IP regime benefit the consuming gamer?

Copyright’s dual nature of promoting the arts for the public good while giving the creators exclusive rights for limited times is in constant conflict with itself. However, life of the author plus 70 years weighs heavily on the “exclusive rights” side of copyright. Under such a regime, videogame characters and franchises won’t see the light of day unless the original developing company allows it. The franchises lose relevancy should consumers have to wait for life plus 70 years. Videogames are complicated by the fact that they can be trademarked too. Videogame companies not only trademark their company names (SEGA is a registered trademark), but also their games (“Streets of Rage” is a dead trademark), and in some cases, presumably their characters. Should no one be able to use those marks unless they pay for a license? Isn’t one company’s trash another’s treasure? In the interest of promoting the arts for the public good (read: consumption), would a more flexible regime be appropriate?

Perhaps a shortened trademark/copyright regime would be more appropriate. Since videogame development cycles—the start of development until release date—are about two years, a regime that gives parent developers/companies 10 years from the release date of a game to make a new franchise-related game may be more appropriate. The cycle would reset each time the parent released a new game (not for ports of old games or downloadable content to existing games). If the parent decides to let the franchise die in those 10 years, a new developer/company could, in the interest of progress and innovation, develop their own game in a similar likeness. This would essentially be a free license. Should the parent want the franchise back, the clock is reset and new developers are estopped.

The 10 year regime described above would allow companies to keep their franchises as long as they developed for them, and would allow new developers to step in should the parent deny their child. In this way, the nerd rage over the pulling of Streets of Rage Remake could be alleviated.

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r3 - 27 Oct 2011 - 01:40:22 - AustinLeach
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