Flappy Bird is flapping about Copyright Infringement

Flappy Bird’s company dotGears recently notified Apple that my game Duck Run infringes on their copyrights, specifically the bird character used in the game. I spent hours drawing my duck character in photoshop and I think it looks nothing like Flappy Bird.  What do you think?

Flappy BirdDuckRun

The above Flappy Bird image was pulled from the USPTO FlappyBird trademark application.   This application was recently filed by Dong Nguyen in March, 2014 and is waiting for review.  He is not just filing this under electronic games but also watches, stationary, hand-bags, glassware, blankets, pillows, clothes, and toys.  Not only is Flappy Bird coming back to the App Store, but it appears dotGear is taking the Angry Birds approach and will start selling merchandise.  And why not?

Todd with Flappy Bird CreatorWe all know the story of Flappy Bird and how it quickly became a huge success only to be removed from the App Store because the author couldn’t handle the stress. I covered this story on my Tech 411 podcast and even had a chance to meet the author, Dong Nguyen while at GDC this year.

I was actually really excited to meet him, as the Flappy Bird story was really big at the time.  I only asked him one question, “Are you bringing Flappy bird back?”  “Yes” he replied.  We were both at Twitter HQ so it seemed appropriate that I should tweet the news.  The next thing I knew, Mac Rumors was running the story.

Is Flappy Bird Original?

We are all influenced by the work of others.  I recommend watching Everything is a Remix to really see this point illustrated.    The artwork and gameplay from Flappy Bird is far from being original.  Let’s compare it to Nintendo’s Super Mario Brothers:


Flappy Bird, on the left, has almost identical green pipes found in the Super Mario Brothers game.   The Flappy Bird gameplay is very similar to the secret underwater world found in the same game.  Mario is controlled by tapping a button that flaps his arms causing him to move upward, while not flapping causes Mario to fall downward.  The Flappy Bird graphic itself looks more like the fish from this same underwater level than my little ‘ol duck.

Why Build Duck Run?

Dong said that it took him 3 days to create Flappy Bird. I was impressed he was able to make a side-scrolling game in just 3 days.  I wondered if I could create a flappy style game in the same amount of time. Considering I’ve competed in plenty of hackathons and even wrote a game in just 20 lines of code (which became the starting point of my book), I thought this would be a fun challenge to take on.  After just 3 days, I had completed my game which I called Duck Run and released it to both the Android and iOS platforms.

Duck Run received great reviews and has pulled in around 200k free downloads.  Because it was so simple, it became my go-to game for learning how to port to other platforms. It’s now available on the Mac platform and Amazon Fire TV.  I think it’s smart to have a simple game in your portfolio for this reason alone.

Decision Time

The last thing my company needs is another frivolous lawsuit, but I refuse to be bullied into removing Duck Run from the App Store.   I think it’s pretty clear it does not violate any trademarks or copyrights.  I’m not sure the original Flappy Bird game could say the same thing.


13 thoughts on “Flappy Bird is flapping about Copyright Infringement

  1. Vinny Hébert

    If I were Dong Nguyen, I would keep my head down because Nintendo has been a headhunter of people using their IP as of late. While the game is really the same between Flappy Bird and Duck Run, that is where the identical nature stops. One could not claim that you stole his graphics.

  2. Roy Al Miller

    Of course someone who got away with copying something is going to go after people who “copy” them. Hypocrisy runs rampant. Stay Strong Todd, and don’t back down.

    The only thing that actually surprised me about this story is that it took you hours of Photoshop time to create that duck.

  3. John

    Hi Todd,

    So what happened? Did you answer Apple or did you just ignore the notification and not answer anything?

    1. todd Post author

      Yes you should always reply to Apple and all other parties listed on the complaint. Always discuss it with a lawyer and have them type up the response regardless of how ridiculous the claims.

  4. Pingback: The popular Flappy Bird app could make a comeback!Big Online News | Big Online News

  5. vega77

    Hey Todd,
    I’m in the same situation as you, got same email from Apple.
    Like you, graphics on my game are totally different, the characters are birds but don’t reassemble the original bird of FB, I did not used the word “flappy” either..
    how are you proceeding on this ?, what do you recommend me to do ?

    1. todd Post author

      Apple and the other parties involved need to know that you have received the complaint and what action you will be taking. The action can certainly be that you will be taking no action because no infringement exists. Lawyers speak in a different language just like we write software in a different language. As such, it’s extremely important to have a lawyer draft the response.

  6. Mohit Purbey

    hello todd, i’ve got a question to ask that i am learning game development and want to develop my version of flappy bird and upload it to app store. can i upload it as flappy bird was originally created by Dong Nguyen, so can i upload would be there any problem if i upload my own version of flappy bird with a different name and character.

    1. todd Post author

      You always run the risk that someone out there will think you have copied them even if it’s all original artwork, code, and design. As such, I always suggest publishing under your own company versus yourself. Good luck!


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