A good friend of mine and I recently got into a spirited debate over why modders now charge for their work. My friend thinks it’s bad practice to charge, in part, because charging for the mods causes intellectual property (IP) problems. I disagree. The IP problems already exist with free mods, but at least now IP rights owners may get paid for the mods. (You pay the modders, too, which is a bonus for everyone.) To counter, my friend pulled out a Fair Use cannon and fired. His ammunition was a parody. He argues: mods are parodies because mods can be absurd. This argument is a misunderstanding of both Fair Use and the definition of a parody.
His incorrect definition seems to be his argument’s lynchpin. So, I’ll jump straight to an explanation of the literary term parody. By correct definition, a parody is an imitation of a particular style or genre for purposes of satirizing it. It does not mean a parody is necessarily absurd. It does not mean a parody allows a modder to use someone’s originally created work without permission–like reusing some original Pokemon artwork in a mod without permission. It does mean a Pokemon parody has a similar style or has newly created elements reminding others of the anime genre. But a modder reusing Pokemon artwork, without permission, is violating IP rights–even if the IP is slightly distorted. This is not a stylized satirizing of a genre; it is a patch-working of IP into someone else’s software.
What a video game satire might look like could be something like Hotline Miami. It’s inspired by and satirizes the styling of a 2011 neo-noir crime drama film Drive, as well as Cocaine Cowboys. But, video games have satirized other video game styles and genres. Nintendo’s games have frequently been targets. But if the creator of a Nintendo satire patched in Nintendo IP, would Nintendo allow this? Not a chance. Even if the modder’s artwork is original, if the work looks too similar to the original IP, Nintendo may have a problem with a mod. While I do feel that Nintendo has been heavy handed at times, stealing other’s work is not cool–even if you don’t like Nintendo.
I’m not a Nintendo fanatic. I don’t feel one way or another about Nintendo as a company. I am grateful they revived the home console market back in the day. But that’s about where my interest in Nintendo ends. Regardless, using IP for mods is wrong. So is my friend’s definition of parody, but it’s wrong as in the usage-of-a-definition wrong. If he reconsidered his spirited argument, my friend would realize he doesn’t have a ghost of a chance to win.