Boardcrafting: Is this legal?

Hexagon with gavels inside

Isn’t what you’re doing illegal?

Thanks for the question. My project is completely legal and if anything, would increase sales of Mayfair’s Settlers of Catan. Allow me to explain:

My project is not a recreation or a replacement for Settlers of Catan. It is more like an accessory to the game. I am not making the cards. I am not making the house, city, and road pieces. (It’s less important, but I am also not making dice) All these things are necessary to play Settlers of Catan. To use my board, you will still need to buy the retail version of Catan.

My creation is primarily motivated by the difficulty of using the default cardboard board to play Catan on picnic tables or on the ground. There are many examples of these kinds of accessories in the market today. A simple Google shopping search will turn up many tiles, frames, boxes, resource tokens, etc.

Still, one might wonder, couldn’t Mayfair still stop you from selling these boards? The laws in question are Copyright Law and Trademark Law.

Trademark Law is a bit simpler, so let’s address that first. Basically trademark law is to prevent counterfeiting. It is not in society’s interest to let one manufacturer pass off his goods as someone else’s. So manufacturer ABC can register specific words and logos as being their trademark. After that, nobody can use those words or that logo in a way that could confuse a consumer into thinking that it came from ABC. There are limits on this, of course – the words or logos can’t be too simple or already in common use.

Clearly “Settlers of Catan” is a trademark, and owned by Klaus Teuber. It would be illegal for me to represent myself as selling Settlers of Catan. However I am free to sell accessories that are “compatible with Settlers of Catan, Mayfair 4th edition”. Just as you can sell after-market car parts “compatible with a Toyota Camry”.

Copyright Law is also not anything to worry about. Copyright law prevents somebody from copying someone else’s creative work and then selling it (with an affordance for some kinds of copying, called Fair Use). It applies to written works, visual art, music, films, and source code. It specifically does not apply to the rules of a game. It also specifically does not apply to the utilitarian constraints that dictate graphical layout. So it does not apply to the concentric hexagon design of the Catan game board.

So long as I don’t copy any of the tile illustrations in Settlers of Catan or any of the printed instructions, I will not infringe on copyright law. Indeed, there exist examples of complete implementations of the Settlers of Catan rules on the internet: Pioneers and asobrain.com.

References:
techdirt.com
publicknowledge.org
publicknowledge.org

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2 Responses to Boardcrafting: Is this legal?

  1. blaise says:

    good job getting the kickstarter fund! Hope it works for ya, what are you thinking the price will be to get a full set?

    Like this

  2. I don’t know yet. I have some ideas, but I don’t want to mention them publicly yet, because if I later discover that they’re not feasible, I don’t want to disappoint people when they change. I could tell you offline though…

    Like this

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