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RedRaider

Usage of real weapons in a game

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Greetings everyone, Having searched the forums for information on this topic already, I realise there has already been a related thread which has come and gone. However, there weren't really any thoughts offered by anyone who has actually gone through this process, just opinions of people who appeared to be exercising common sense to varying degrees. So I apologise for creating a new thread on the topic, but I just want to try to get a fresh discussion going and hopefully draw interest from anyone who might have some actual professional experience with this. I am currently researching licensing requirements for the use of existing modern military weaponry in our upcoming First Person Shooter (which will be a commercial product). We have a preliminary list of weapons that we would like to include, but we are unsure about how to proceed in verifying whether or not we need permission to use these weapons (their names and their physical likeness). The research I've done so far, via a combination of visiting developers forums and contacting some developers directly has left me with a variety of different answers, including: - "As long as the weapon in question is in use by an official military (ie. US Army, British Army, Austrian Army, etc etc) somewhere in the world, it is considered public domain and can be used freely." - "Weapons manufacurers will want to retain control over their designs and trademarks and therefore some kind of agreement must be reached with them in order to use their weapons in your game." - "As long as you only use the technical designation for the weapon (ie. "M16, M4, AK74, etc") and not the manufacturers name (ie. "Colt, Heckler & Koch, Steyr, etc"), you can freely use the weapon without any permission required." - "You can -slightly- modify the weapon model and call it a different name (ie. "M4A1 Colt Carbine" becomes "M34 Barker Carbine"), thereby avoiding the necessity to get permission to use it in your game." - "Go away and ask your lawyers to look into it." As you can see, these replies don't really point towards any definitive answer. I realise that the most definitive way to get an answer would be to contact the various manufacturers directly, but in order to avoid any unnecessarily complicated legal negotiations this early in my research (before we even know for sure if we DEFINITELY want these specific weapons), I am first trying to get more answers from developers who have been in a similar position. Kind Regards, RedRaider

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I would be interested in a definitive answer to this also. A game we were working on previously (it's on the back-burner at present) required a combination of ancient and pre-1900's weapons and I'd always assumed we could use them in a game without asking for permission....now I'm not so sure :)

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Suggestions 3 and 5 look very reasonable. 3) is good because you cannot trademark an abbreviation as-is (e.g. M4A1 Colt Carabine is protected, while M4A1 alone isn't). In any case - just do the game and ask the weapon manufacturers once you have (nearly) finished your project. You can still rename your weapons later anyway.

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Quote:
Original post by evelyn
I would be interested in a definitive answer to this also. A game we were working on previously (it's on the back-burner at present) required a combination of ancient and pre-1900's weapons and I'd always assumed we could use them in a game without asking for permission....now I'm not so sure :)

You definately can.

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The definitive answer is "no". - or to be more specific "no you can't without exposing yourself to very expensive legal action".

The only worthwhile advise in the list above is number 5 - talk to a lawyer. However, even if a lawyer tell you that you can you still aren't safe because it doesn't stop the manufacturers coming after you and costing you very large legal fees to defend your case.

Put simply, unless you actually own the IP for the weapon, or have a written agreement with the manufacturer, or actual proof that the item is in the public domain; then using it exposes you to possible legal action.

There is a thread IGDA forums (Trademarking History) which clearly shows this (it may well be one of your threads). It discusses a case where the makers of a WWII aircraft have approached a developer demanding a license fee for an aircraft they almost certainly don't make/sell any more. Lawyers posting to the thread have indicated that the claim is without foundation and yet the game's publisher has paid up. They did so, not because they believe the maker has a claim, but because delaying the release of the game costs money and if the manufacturer commences legal action (even if it never goes to court) that will cost tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees.

The other thing the above thread shows is how pointless it is to ask for legal advice in forums. Put simply you are seeking to make commercial gain from someone else's intellectual property. It is highly likely that if they discover you have done this without permission they will come after you regardless of if they have a case or not. Talking to a lawyer is just part of the "cost" of including real weapons. If you wont pay the cost then either don't use the weapons or accept the fact that you are exposing yourself to potentially damaging legal action down the line.

Whatever you decide - good luck with the project :)

Quote:
Original post by darookie
Quote:
Original post by evelyn
I would be interested in a definitive answer to this also. A game we were working on previously (it's on the back-burner at present) required a combination of ancient and pre-1900's weapons and I'd always assumed we could use them in a game without asking for permission....now I'm not so sure :)

You definately can.


And this is the problem with asking in forums because the above advise could well be wrong. Trademarks don't expire if a company is still making and selling a product. It is possible (although unlikely) that the original manufacturer of an old weapon (or a company which bought them/the rights) is still making the weapons in question and selling them to gun enthusiasts, re-enactment groups or simply as souvenir. In that case use of the trademark would be a breach.

As I say, unlikely, but possible - make sure or take the risk.

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Quote:
Original post by Obscure
As I say, unlikely, but possible - make sure or take the risk.

I'd say - always take the risk. Claims about that would still be subject to fair use. And the efforts of researching whether an ancient product is still in production somehow is much greater than the effort of altering a small part of the game afterwards.
And w/ regards to existing companies - I'd just ask them in this special case. A simple 'no you may not do that' from H&K or Colt should be definite enough [smile]

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Counter-Strike renamed all of it's weapons before going commercial, so I think that does a fair job of showing you the legal issues with it.

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Hi everyone,

Thanks for prompt responses from everyone so far. We did note fairly early on that well known (and therefore seemingly well-funded) projects like Counter-Strike's commercial version and Soldier of Fortune 1 used fake names for their weapons, which seemed to immediately imply that they had run into some kind of obstacle in using the real weapon names (because after all, why change the names if you're totally free to use them?).

I suppose in the back of my mind I knew that some kind of legal agreement would have to be drawn up, given that who -wouldn't- try to protect their trademarked products? I was just mildly hoping that -maybe- there was some easy (never is though eh? :-)) way through this. As we're not a big developer and we have to watch our budget to a certain degree, I think I'll probably go for the option of changing the weapon names and modifying the designs significantly so as to be visibly different from (yet reminiscent of) the originals.

Which leads me to my next question: Are there any established guidelines commonly used in the industry for precisely how much is 'enough' when it comes to modifying designs in order to not be considered a copy?

Anyway, thanks again for the input so far. Regarding forums not being the ideal place to get feedback on this kind of stuff, I fully understand that and am not going to take anything mentioned here as -absolute- gospel. It's just nice to be able to chat about our work with people who have had some experience with this sort of thing. I suspected that we'd have to either do the whole legal thing OR make completely original weapons, and the most common sense feedback has actually pushed me in that direction, so this -has- been useful.

If anyone has anything else to offer on the topic, please do so. It's all interesting. :-)

Kind Regards,

Omar Salleh
Lead Designer
Tragnarion Studios

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Quote:
Original post by RedRaider
Which leads me to my next question: Are there any established guidelines commonly used in the industry for precisely how much is 'enough' when it comes to modifying designs in order to not be considered a copy?


Sadly no clear guidelines because, technically, any amount of copying would constitute a derivative work and thus would be a breach. Of course, if the changes are extreme you wont get caught but it still isn't possible to set solid guidelines for something that isn't allowed.

If the shape is similar then you certainly need to steer clear of names, trademarks & logos. If you have a similar shape and a name that has been slightly changed to obscure the truth then you might get into trouble.

[Edited by - Obscure on December 20, 2004 11:00:28 AM]

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Thanks Obscure for your very sensible advice so far. We've narrowed it down the two safest options: Either A) get permission directly from the manufacturer (which will likely involve a fee), or B) design our own weapons from scratch.

My reason for ideally wanting to use the real weapon designs and names is that our FPS is has a military theme and therefore I would have liked to include as many elements as possible that appeal to established fans of the genre. The weapon variety in games such as Rainbow 6 series, Counter-Strike, etc leads to a lot of ongoing debate and discussion on player forums long after the title is released, plus fans of military-themed FPS games tend to have favourite weapons that they often choose -regardless- of how good it actually is in the game. Basically I wanted to make use of all that. I know that I, personally, am a big fan of the M4A1 Colt Carbine, for example! :-)

Anyway, one final question before I let this topic drop. Has anyone here had any experience actually contacting a weapons manufacturer to acquire permission to use a weapon in their game? I'd like to have a rough idea of what kind of figures are involved before I contact them and ask them straight up, just so that I know if we're getting taken advantage of or not (given that we're new to this aspect of games development legality). Anyone?

Many thanks,

Omar Salleh
Lead Designer
Tragnarion Studios

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