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The computer game Palworld from the Japanese developer studio Pocket Pair was released less than a month ago and has since been the subject of numerous accusations of plagiarism, particularly in social media. The accusation from users is that Palworld is a Pokémon clone that makes illegal use of the Pokémon Company’s ideas and intellectual property.

What exactly is Palworld?

In Palworld, players catch animal like creatures – the Pals – with so-called “Pal Spheres” and let them compete against other Pals. At the same time, the Pals can also be used to create items, buildings and production chains. This makes the Pals stronger and should enable the player to become the strongest trainer in the region. This doesn’t just sound like a mixture of the Pokémon games developed by Game Freak for Nintendo with a pinch of ARK: Survival Evolved by Studio Wildcard, it is. And that has ensured the first major gaming success in 2024 with over six million units sold in the game’s first four days on sale. Reason enough for us to take a closer look at Palworld from the perspective of German copyright law.

What are computer games made of?

Video games are hybrid works that are made up of numerous individual parts. Each game is initially based on a certain concept which, the more appealing it is to the user, contributes largely to the success of a game. Such a concept is implemented in the underlying computer program, working in the background and at best unnoticeable to the player. The user interface, on the other hand, is the player’s medium of interaction, where he makes his entries and where success is depicted audiovisually. Video game artists design countless assets for a game, such as character models and background graphics, composers create background music and all of it fits into a plot framework that is usually specified by video game authors.

Protection of game concepts

The basic concept of Palworld is the catching and training of Pals combined with elements from the survival game genre. Neither part of these concepts is new. Pokémon has been around since 1996, and works that depict survival battles have been known outside of video games since 1719 with Robinson Crusoe at the latest.

The last example shows that protecting pure concepts would quickly lead to their monopolization. Since such far-reaching copyright protection is not desirable, a protection of concepts are outside of the legislative goal. An idea in itself is not protected by copyright.

On the other hand, the specific form of a concept may well be protected. Complex sets of rules for a game, for example, are protectable as works of speech pursuant to Section 2 (1) No. 1 UrhG.

However, the concept of Pokémon is only partially adopted in Palworld. Battles in Pokémon, for example, are traditionally turn-based, whereas Palworld implemented real time combat. In addition, the Pals fight not only with their abilities, but also with weapons if necessary. Compared to ARK: Survival Evolved, the animal creatures can be used as mounts and production animals, but the survival mechanics in Palworld are reduced to the bare essentials.

Protection of a computer program

Computer programs are also protected as works of speech pursuant to Section 2 (1) No. 1 UrhG in conjunction with Sections 69a et seq. UrhG. For this the program does not need to surpass a high bar; the so-called protection of the small coin applies, i.e. the lowest limit of works that are still barely protectable under copyright law.

However, it is important to note that this protection only applies to the developer’s programming work, i.e. those lines of code that form the backbone of a game. The other components of the game are separate from this. A copyright infringement by Palworld would therefore only exist with regard to the program if the developers had taken over large parts of the original code of the Pokémon games.

Protection of graphic representations

The visuals that takes place in front of the player’s eyes are also protected under the copyright law as a cinematographic work pursuant to Section 2 (1) No. 6 UrhG. In contrast to the classic movie, the game will run different frames from person to person. However, this interactivity does not affect the classification as a film work, as according to the prevailing opinion, the visuals only use the possibilities provided by the game, no completely new image sequences are created.

Protection of figures and characters

The biggest overlap between Palworld and Pokémon lies in the catchable creatures. There is no doubt that the developer of Palworld was heavily inspired by a large number of the more than 1025 Pokémon of its big competitor. Comparisons between the character models of the two games even show identical proportions of the creatures in some cases.

Since the individual components of a video game can be relevant under copyright law, legal literature argues that rights holders must protect games in their individual parts according to the principle of the so-called “separation solution”. Accordingly, the extent of copyright infringement would have to be examined separately for each individual protected item. From the Pokémon Company’s point of view, the character models of its Pokémon would probably be of primary interest, as this is where Palworld comes closest to the original.

On the other hand, there is also the possibility of assuming overall protection of the work within the framework of the so-called “focus theory”. The question would then be whether the game is to be protected primarily as a cinematographic work or as a computer program, although it is unclear on what grounds this decision should be based. On the basis of this approach, it would be rather unlikely that the Pokémon Company would take action, as there are too many differences in detail between Palworld and Pokémon.



Palworld is a combination of very successful games that could easily be described as a copy. Strikingly, care was taken to get just as close to the originals as copyright law would allow. The inspirations of the game world, the characters and the gameplay are thus visible at all times in Palworld and this is probably why the game has been so well received by players, as it has catapulted to around two million active players on Steam from a standing start. From the players’ point of view, Palworld offers much of what they would like to see in Pokémon games, with real-time battles and an “open world” concept.

The future will show to what extent the Pokémon Company will try to take legal action against the game or whether it will try to beat the new competitor on the market with a new game that may again take up concepts from Palworld.