How to Copyright a Card Game

by Debra Kraft; Updated September 26, 2017

The description of a card game can be protected by a literary copyright. This means the language used to describe the game can be protected in the same way a novel is protected. This also means the only thing being protected is the author’s literary expression describing how the game is played. Since the actual method or process associated with how the game is played will not be protected by a copyright, it might also be a good idea to obtain a process patent to protect the concept of the game. Another consideration is to obtain a trademark protecting the name of the game. Of these three protections, a copyright is the easiest and the most affordable to pursue.

Items you will need

  • Registration form
  • Non-refundable filing fee
  • Non-returnable description of the work to be registered for copyright protection
Step 1

Prepare a document describing the game and explaining the rules of play. For ideas about organizing the work, explore books about card games at a local bookstore or library. Ask someone to perform a thorough edit for errors in grammar, syntax and spelling. Revise your document based on your editor's suggestions and your own final review.

Step 2

Select a method for registering and prepare your final submission. The optimal method is to register electronically using the Electronic Copyright Office (eCO). The eCO guides you step-by-step through every part of the process and provides additional instructions. Documents can be uploaded for submission using common file formats such as .rtf and .doc. As of April 2010, this method is averaging nine months from submission to confirmation of registration. A second option is to print the application form (Form CO) along with a copy of your document and mail both to the U.S. Copyright Office along with a check for the registration fee. As of April 2010, this method is averaging 22 months from submission to confirmation of registration.

Step 3

Pay the appropriate fee. The fee for processing an electronic registration is $35 as of April 2010 and can be processed using a variety of options, such as credit, debit or electronic check. The fee for processing a Form CO is $50 as of April 2010 and must be paid by check.

Step 4 Step 5


  • Test your documented instructions on a small group of people who have not been introduced to the game. Ask them to play the game based entirely on the rules and instructions in your written document. Rewrite the document based on the group’s input, and then perform another trial with the same small group as well as with another, new group. If your test groups are able to play the game without asking you for additional input, you can reasonably assume the instructions are effectively written.

    After the registration process is completed, a certificate of registration is mailed to the registrant. All registrations processed after 1978 can be reviewed online in the U.S. Copyright Office Catalog. Additionally, registrants who apply online can easily track the status of their submissions.


  • Remember that a copyright can protect only the author's written expression of a card game. Copyright does not protect the concept of the game. A process patent can take over where the copyright leaves off, protecting the concept of the game; however, registering for a patent can be expensive and involves a much more complex process than registering for a copyright.

About the Author

A careers content writer, Debra Kraft is a former English teacher whose 25-plus year corporate career includes training and mentoring. She holds a senior management position with a global automotive supplier and is a senior member of the American Society for Quality. Her areas of expertise include quality auditing, corporate compliance, Lean, ERP and IT business analysis.

Photo Credits

  • playing cards image by Warren Millar from