Fans of the Metal Gear Solid franchise received disappointing news earlier this week when Project “Shadow Moses”–an ambitious fan reboot of the original game using Unreal Engine 4–was canceled. A trailer showing the progress of the project prior to its termination is below:
This would have represented a significant improvement from the 1998 original Metal Gear Solid.
While disappointing, this wasn’t a terribly shocking development from the perspective of an intellectual property lawyer. The developers of Shadow Moses made no secret of the fact that they were undertaking the development without formal permission from Konami, and given the importance of intellectual property rights to content companies, I would suggest that the eventual icing of this project was a foregone conclusion. Simply put, intellectual property rights can be incredibly valuable, but they also require incredible diligence. Failure to vigorously protect those rights can result in signficant erosion of value over time, potentially culminating in an entire loss. It was simply unreasonable to expect that a large multinational corporation like Konami would let a project like this continue.
While I think Konami’s position and actions were correct from the perspective of our current laws, I don’t necessarily agree with them from a cultural perspective or from the perspective of what I wish the law actually was. As I’ve written on other occasions, the current state of our “sharing” society requires a soul-searching reexamination of what we want our intellectual property laws to be, and what we want them to do. In the United States, our intellectual property laws are based on the constitutional prerogative “To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts.” Stated differently, our intellectual property laws are supposed to provide sufficient incentives for people to create. Our current laws have pursued promotion through a profit motive and structure.
This structure, however, has largely become obsolete in many contexts. Incentives for creation have changed and the costs and burdens associated with creation and distribution have shrunk enormously. Content is not just being consumed, its being reused and repackaged for individual self-expression. Music, movies, and video games are no longer just forms of entertainment. They are common languages that can create quick and lasting connections. In such an environment, intellectual property laws can just as easily serve as an obstacle to progress as they can an incentive. Our laws need to adapt to appropriately reflect and enhance our shared culture.