How the gaming and eSports industry is impacted by the new EU Copyright contract adjustment mechanism

Game publishers shall restructure agreements with authors in the view of the new principle

The contract adjustment mechanism under the new EU Copyright Directive grants the right to game authors and eSports creators to receive fair remuneration whose amount might be reassessed over time.

The game and eSports industries are going to be considerably impacted by the new Copyright Directive.  Below is a review of some of the most relevant legal issues that can arise in the context mentioned above, both in Italian as part of my videoblog Diritto al Digitale and in English in the article:

Game publishers’ bargains with authors are at risk

An envisaged scenario in the video gaming and gambling industry could be that:

  • There is a small studio that develops a game, selling it at a low price since they need to become popular as they are a start-up; and
  • The publisher purchases the game, maybe with limited interest because the studio is not well-known and they don’t have high expectations, but then the game turns out to be a massive success!

Under the regime in place before the new EU Copyright Directive, the publisher would be celebrating its great deal, while the authors would not have more than what initially contractually agreed.  But apparently, the scenario might be disrupted with the EU Copyright Directive.

The impact of the contract adjustment principle on video gaming and gambling industries

Article 20 of the new EU Copyright Directive introduced the so-called “contract adjustment mechanism” under which

authors and performers or their representatives are entitled to claim additional, appropriate and fair remuneration from the party with whom they entered into a contract for the exploitation of their rights [—] when the remuneration originally agreed turns out to be disproportionately low compared to all the subsequent relevant revenues derived from the exploitation of the works or performances.

Based on a strict interpretation of the above-mentioned rule, it will require video game publishers

  • to thoroughly describe in the agreement with authors all the elements that led to the calculation of the agreed remuneration since such features will be potentially taken into account by a court to assess whether the compensation was fair;
  • structure the remuneration clause in such agreements with a mechanic that enables price adjustments according to criteria identified therein to avoid that the parties end up litigating on the remuneration adjustment mechanic;
  • disclose to authors the information necessary to understand the level of revenues generated through the game, setting such disclosure to the very minimum required to comply with the regulatory obligation; and
  • provide a reassessment of the fair remuneration over time since a video game initially unpopular might all of a sudden become very famous.

Since the new regulatory framework on copyright is set up there a directive, EU Member States might implement the contract adjustment principle in different manners.  But they shall remain within the scope of the principle yielded by the Directive.  In particular, it is not clear whether the parties can contractually overhaul, providing that it is not applicable to the agreement.

There is no doubt that this provision will have a substantial impact on the video game market.  The industry should be ready for it and agree on standard terms to regulate the contract adjustment mechanism; otherwise, significant disputes might arise.  This process will need a renegotiation of several agreements.  Indeed, the issue is whether the same principle will also apply to agreements entered before the effective date of the EU Copyright Directive, which might have a considerable impact even on the balance sheet of major publishers.

What is the impact on eSports?

In a previous article, “eSports and copyright protection of choreography and UGC,” it was discussed as to whether eSports dance choreography can be copyright protected and the level of protection of user-generated content in videogames.

If copyright protection is extended to such components of the games, the video game and the eSports industries might be heavily impacted.  The requirement to renegotiate agreements with authors would extend to the creators of such material.  And, given the recent popularity of, for instance, the L dance, the issue relating to the fair remuneration of authors might lead to significant disputes.

You can find interesting the DLA Piper eSports law book to get insights on the hottest legal topics impacting the video game industry at the moment.

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Giulio Coraggio

I am the head of the Italian Technology sector and the global head of the IoT and Gaming and Gambling groups at the world-leading law firm DLA Piper. IoT and artificial intelligence influencer and FinTech and blockchain expert, finding solutions to what's next for our clients' success.

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