Can right holders really prevent Dragon Ball FighterZ from appearing at tournament events? UltraDavid explains the reality of the situation

Posted by Justin 'AdaptiveTrigger' Gordon • December 30, 2018 at 7:44 p.m. PST

An unsettling precedent has been plaguing the Dragon Ball FighterZ community recently. It was previously announced by AkSys Games that the Dragon Ball FighterZ event at the Anime Ascension was being cancelled "due to unforeseen circumstances."

Before this, Alex Jebailey had to cancel the Dragon Ball FighterZ tournament at DreamHack Atlanta for reasons other than the entry numbers. He noted that he was not able to publicly disclose exactly why.

Despite the fact that the game is not even a year old, it ended up not appearing in EVO Japan's lineup for 2019. Curiously, Mr. Wizard — a tournament organizer behind EVO — noted a fear that the game might be a "one and done."

While many immediately began to point the finger at Toei Animation, they eventually released a statement on Twitter stating that they had no knowledge as to why Dragon Ball FighterZ tournaments were being prevented. Theories were suggested by community members that it might be one of the other owners of the Dragon Ball franchise.

Could a rights holder really prevent a game from appearing at a tournament like this? There are probably very few people within the fighting game community that would be more qualified to answer this question more than David "UltraDavid" Graham, an attorney.

He recently released an article that tries to explain the reality of the situation. Like most things in law, there are a lot of unexplored gray areas. According to UltraDavid, this has not yet been tested in a court case.

First off, the legality of unauthorized video game tournaments has never been tested in court. One reason for this is that competitive gaming hasn't been important enough to justify long costly legal battles until pretty recently, so courts haven't yet had a chance. But there's a more fundamental cause: the virtually complete consensus among legal experts that rights holders can use their exclusive rights, especially the audiovisual public performance right, to prevent their games from being played in tournaments.

It is explained by UltraDavid that the audiovisual copyright in a video game grants the "exclusive rights to reproduce it, create derivative works based on it, distribute it, and publicly perform it, as well as the right to decide who else can do those things too."

Essentially, the rights holder has control over how the work can be shown in public. This becomes an issue when the work is being displayed to a group of people outside of one's circle of friends and family.

"A court once held that playing a tabletop game in public did not implicate the public performance right; should that holding be extended to video games too?" — David 'UltraDavid' Graham

Since the game is on public display for anyone to watch at tournaments, this seems to fall in line with these exclusive rights. Showcasing the game via a stream, video, or projector can potentially be a violation of these public performance rights.

Luckily, it doesn't appear as though most gaming companies have an interest in interfering with major tournament events like this. Perhaps some right holders see it as free advertisement or simply don't care.

According to UltraDavid, a court once ruled that "playing a tabletop game in public did not implicate the public performance right." Similarly, it has also been "decided that while broadcasts of a sport were copyrightable, the sport itself was not."

Here's where the uncertainty kicks in. It's not entirely clear if these scenarios also apply to video games. Remember that this has yet to actually be tested in a court case.

It seems that UltraDavid would be very interested in one day determining this. Before the creation of the article, he boldly declared that he would — at no cost — defend any tournament organizer that had a rights holder preventing a game from being played at their event.

UltraDavid Tweet image #1
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It's highly recommended that you read David Philip Graham's entire article at the DPG at Law website for a more detailed explanation.

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