Legal risks for modding in video games?

As a fan of video games, one of the benefits to gaming on PC rather than on console is the freedom to “mod” the games. Modding is when fans create assets or software which change an aspect of the game, such as its appearance or mechanics. For example, one of my personal favourites is the Barney mod for Resident Evil: Village, which transforms all the enemies in the game into Barney the dinosaur, and thus dramatically increasing the horror elements of the game.


There's Already A Barney The Dinosaur Mod For Resident Evil Village


Here is a video of the RE: Village Barney mod for anyone curious. Watch at your own discretion:


Some game studios see modding as beneficial to their community. For example, Bethesda is well-known for their endorsement of their modding community. In fact, they have proactively created guidelines for modding on their website and thus explicitly encouraging fans to create mods using their games, and share said mods, so long as they abide by the guidelines. It is arguable that the robust modding community created through such endorsement directly contributed to the longevity of some of their titles such as Skyrim, as fans regularly created mods which updated the texture and mechanics of the game to keep up with modern graphics and game design.


What mods can you put on Skyrim to make it visually look so much better than the vanilla? - Quora


However, other game studios are significantly less approving of modding. For example, I recently read an article regarding how the Japanese video game giant Capcom compares modding to cheating due to its manipulation of the game’s code. In addition, the company seems worried that malicious mods will cause reputational damage to the company and its works. See article here:


Modding is often a prima facie violation of copyright due to fans reproducing and altering game assets without permission and it is not clear if it would be protected by any of the exhaustive fair dealing categories under Canadian copyright law. Some mods are clearly parody or satire while others are not so clear. In addition, if one of the fears of the game companies is reputational damage, moral rights may also be a concern. Under US copyright law, copyright holders have the exclusive right to create derivative works, which automatically makes modding an infringement of copyright. Finally, modders often borrow copyrighted material from other IP holders to create their mods (ex. putting Thomas the Tank Engine into every game there ever was), which is a copyright violation by itself. As such, it may be prudent for modders to work on games from companies which have explicitly endorsed the practice and be cautious about what works they are using to create their mods.


Overall, modding is a hobby which brings a lot of enjoyment to the gaming community. It improves the longevity of games, fans frequently take it upon themselves to fix and maintain the games for free, and it is always fun to see Thomas the Tank Engine cameo in every major game title. I certainly hope more game studios will recognize these benefits and protect the practice.


4 responses to “Legal risks for modding in video games?”

  1. Kelvin Kim

    Hi Amy,

    This was such an interesting read! As a fellow gamer, I also have wondered about the legalities of modding in video games. Something that came to mind while I was reading your post was how these companies that allow for modding react to mod developers gaining economic benefit through their games. One example I can think of was how mods on certain pay-to-play games such as Warcraft and Gary’s mod gave rise to some of the biggest game titles of our generation (Dota 2 and Counterstrike). On one hand, players like myself have purchased certain games solely for the mods, which provides economic benefit to these developers. However, I can see issues surrounding distribution of the mods for developers that may distribute for profit.

    Also, it’s interesting to see how different companies have widely varying policies surrounding mods. Similar to Capcom, I found Nintendo’s hard no-modding policy to be quite interesting as it aligns with Japan’s view on modding, evidenced by their recently expanded regulations in the Unfair Competition Prevention Law to punish modders.

    I found this article to be a fun read regarding this topic! (

    – Kelvin

  2. Anonymous

    It’s a bit surprising to hear that some games don’t like modding. Oftentimes, many games and developers support modding by including modding tools in the game, or including mods in their official community pages. Modding encourages customer participation, which certainly must be a good thing for the developers. Also, I often hear that some games encourage mods because they can help deal with game issues that programmers are unable to fix at the moment. Why pay programmers to fix a game when the customers are willing to do it for you and for free.

    You do bring up a good point about moral rights. A video is comparable to a specific work of art where the designers have a specific vision. If the creator wants the end product to be a certain way, then moral rights should protect that. However, I wonder to what extent a moral right exists when the nature of the work is to be manipulated by others. A video game isn’t a movie that players watch by pressing the buttons to move from one scene to another.

  3. Amy Kang

    Hi Kelvin,

    It’s nice to see a fellow gamer on the discussion board. Also thanks for the article, it was a really interesting read! I also had no idea about Dota 2 and Counterstrike’s origins. I definitely think that modding has a net positive effect for both the consumers and the game companies. However, it is also understandable that the companies want some level of control over their IPs in order to prevent them from being misused, such as modding to gain an advantage, mods which contain offensive content, etc. So I think the Bethesda approach of creating modding tools, openly endorsing the creation and sharing of mods, but also setting some basic guidelines is a good way to approach the issue. The approach by many of the Japanese companies such as Capcom and Nintendo seem overly draconian but they have been known to be overly protective of their IPs (ex. I’m thinking of Nintendo’s treatment of the competitive Smash Bros community and their aggressive copyright Youtube strikes). For me, I think this sort of heavy-handed approach sours the reputation of the company far more than any potential problems with mods.

    – Amy

  4. Amy Kang

    Also hello Anon!

    Yes, agreed about the overall positive impact of mods, especially nowadays when PC games often get released in unplayable states and we sometimes need to rely on modders to fix them (hey, maybe that’s why Bethesda is so pro-modding?). I have personally run into issues where I bought a game on Steam but cannot run it due to lack of support from the developers and had to rely on mods to fix the game. However, some companies do tend to take a rather authoritarian approach over their IPs and there seems to be a general disconnect between the decision-makers and their community.

    On the moral rights issue, although it’s a good point that the nature of games is dynamic, I think there is an argument to be made that IP holders may not want consumers to modify the games in undesirable ways, such as putting extremely offensive content into their games or developing cheat software in competitive games. I think this position is understandable but nefarious mods constitute such a slim minority of mods and should not define the entire modding community.

    – Amy