IMLS Libraries Project

Rethinking liability and publishing (as part of democratizing our platform)

It turns out that democratizing our game platform with Hive Mechanic servers involves some serious legal thinking. A dream for our group is to help contribute to the field by giving some sunshine to these issues, since the legal and policy dimensions are very different from publishing games as media objects, and may involve guiding players through physical space — and with different copyright case law for texting than website publishing.

The stakes are immediate: Do ordinary residents have to figure out the legal stuff?? Who is responsible if a player gets hurt while playing a game? How do you limit authors from creating games with gambling? How do you pay for hosting, but leave the copyright and content questions up to the authors?

Our hope is to look beyond two extremes: sweeping the legal questions under the rug (and hoping no one asks or gets hurt — which is not smart), or hiding behind draconian legalese that forces players and authors to give away all rights (which would violate our goals of democratizing design and empowering communities).

Today we preview our initial author and user agreements for hosted games and interactive stories, including for our libraries in the IMLS project. If you want to host your own installation of Hive Mechanic, then most of this is up to you — publish whatever you want (subject to local laws, etc. of course), and figure out your own terms with players. But for our IMLS grant, we are hosting the games that library staff and patrons create — so that means we have figure out our own liability as hosts, and we want to reduce the burden on library staff to figure this out on their own.

If you have ideas or questions, let us know!

p.s. — A huge thank you to a number of legal minds and the lawyers at American University and beyond for helping us think through the interesting questions with this project.