If you've never heard of machinima, you are not alone. The filmmaking technique, however, is quickly making its way into mainstream media. In fact, Texas is the unofficial machinima capital of the world. So says Mark Methenitis, an attorney with the Vernon Law Group, PL.L.C. in Dallas, who recently spoke on the legal aspects related to machinima at the Play-Machinima-Law Conference at Stanford. Methenitis also is the author of Law of the Game, a blog that discusses video game law, so, we, you know, trust him.
Utilizing strategies such as voice-overs, a machinima creator — or better yet, a machinimator — uses footage from video games to create a movie, which is machinima. Methenitis says the form goes back to a film based on the video game "Quake."
Since its creation, machinima has been used in various forms to create movies, commercials, and everything in between. And, like all things, there are legal issues that arise from machinima. For the most part, machinimators have relied on the trusty "fair use" doctrine to stay out of trouble. But Methenitis says that may not always protect creators, and relying on fair use puts one on thin ice.
Most video game publishers will allow the use of their games in machinima, as long as there is no profit made from the movie, he says. There are a couple of series that have made a profit off of their movies, but those production companies have licenses to do so. Methenitis encourages machinimators to read a game company's policy on machinima before making it — companies such as Microsoft and Blizzard have policies specifically targeted to machinima.