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Using Celebrities in a Game

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Hi, I am currently designing a game that is using celebrity characters. The name of the celebrity will NOT be in the game. Only an avatar that resembles him, some settings of places that are tied with that celebrity through movies, some moves (e.g. a choreography) and props that have been used by the celebrity etc. I was wondering if anyone know how to avoid any copyright infringement issues. What are the key things that I must avoid. Thank you in advance, GamerGamer

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This is a picture that will help you understand better what I mean:
http://www.starstore.com/acatalog/mj-thirller-zombie-vinyl.jpg


GamerGamer

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Quote:
Original post by gamergamer
>I am currently designing a game that is using celebrity characters.
>...an avatar that resembles him...
>I was wondering if anyone know how to avoid any copyright infringement issues.

Yes. Don't use celebrity characters.
Quote:
What are the key things that I must avoid.

Proceeding with your plan without a lawyer.

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I would echo Tom's advice and not use celebrities as characters in your game. Period. Many jurisdictions grant celebrities the right to control commercial uses of their name, likeness and persona under the "right of publicity". In the US this is mostly governed by state statute and common law, but their are several trademark claims that can be made under the Lanham Act (e.g. false endorsement) and several common law tort claims (e.g. unfair competition) as well. Rights of publicity survives the death of the celebrity and may be controlled by the estate of the celebrity. I am fairly certain the Michael Jackson estate would have a problem with the model you posted even if you did not use MJ's name. Some dead celebrities are quite litigious (e.g. Marilyn Monroe and Elvis are highly protected).

No publisher would touch your game because it is too risky. Good luck!

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Original post by kdog77
I would echo Tom's advice and not use celebrities as characters in your game. Period. Many jurisdictions grant celebrities the right to control commercial uses of their name, likeness and persona under the "right of publicity". In the US this is mostly governed by state statute and common law, but their are several trademark claims that can be made under the Lanham Act (e.g. false endorsement) and several common law tort claims (e.g. unfair competition) as well. Rights of publicity survives the death of the celebrity and may be controlled by the estate of the celebrity. I am fairly certain the Michael Jackson estate would have a problem with the model you posted even if you did not use MJ's name. Some dead celebrities are quite litigious (e.g. Marilyn Monroe and Elvis are highly protected).

No publisher would touch your game because it is too risky. Good luck!


Thank you for your reply especially kdog77 for your elaborate reply.

The MJ picture is not mine,is just something i found through Google images.

Since I am sure there are a lot of "modifications" I can do to avoid copyright infringement I was wondering if you have any sources with this kind of tips and strategies. If not, thanks anyway for your wisdom

GamerGamer

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Original post by gamergamer
Since I am sure there are a lot of "modifications" I can do to avoid copyright infringement I was wondering if you have any sources with this kind of tips and strategies. If not, thanks anyway for your wisdom


That was answered above. Get a lawyer [smile]

You'll need one anyway since if a celebrity gets angry they'll sue you whether or not you've "done everything right". In our system you don't need to have done anything wrong to get sued. You still need to go to court and pay a lawyer if you're sued even if you will almost certainly win.

-me

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Original post by gamergamer
Since I am sure there are a lot of "modifications" I can do to avoid copyright infringement I was wondering if you have any sources with this kind of tips and strategies.

http://www.sloperama.com/advice/faq61.htm
Again: just don't do it.
Or get a lawyer.

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While you should definitely think hard about what have been said in this thread, there are some "loop holes". Fair use in the US, for example, allows you to name specific products and people under a specific set of circumstances.

Satire is another common example. Shows like South Park and Family Guy and many others will often use celebrities with both likeness and name, often in less than flattering situations (for example, try and watch the South Park episode with the TV program "Russell Crowe Fighting 'Round the World")

The is also to some degree an unspoken agreement that, being in the public's eye, imitations of celebrities are inevitable. Otherwise just about every stand-up comedian would be sued. As another example, PopCap's Plants Vs Zombies have this guy and I haven't heard of the MJ estate suing PopCap.

So if you make a tongue-in-cheek character that dresses and moves in a way that could maybe be mistaken for a certain pop singer, then I would say that no-one would bother taking offense. However, if you slab a big sticker on saying "Look, it's Michael Jackson! This is Michael Jackson singing and dancing here, look, look!" then it's another matter.

As always, IANAL. If in doubt, don't do it [wink]

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Original post by gamergamer
Since I am sure there are a lot of "modifications" I can do to avoid copyright infringement I was wondering if you have any sources with this kind of tips and strategies. If not, thanks anyway for your wisdom

1. What you are talking about has nothing to do with copyright. The fact that you think it does shows that you need a lawyer.

2. Kdog has pretty clearly outlined the reasons why you should not do this. The only "modification" you can make to MJ's likeness that would eliminate the risk of legal action is to make it NOT look like MJ.

3. An actual lawyer answered this very question in this thread.

Quote:
Original post by Promethium
While you should definitely think hard about what have been said in this thread, there are some "loop holes". Fair use in the US, for example, allows you to name specific products and people under a specific set of circumstances.

Satire is another common example. Shows like South Park and Family Guy and many others will often use celebrities with both likeness and name, often in less than flattering situations (for example, try and watch the South Park episode with the TV program "Russell Crowe Fighting 'Round the World")

This is all true; and in a perfect world the OP would be free to go ahead. Unfortunately we don't live in a perfect world. In civil cases like this you have to pay to get legal defense.

Fair use won't protect the OP against being sued. Fair use is not a blanket protection that would allow the OP to dismiss a claim by waving a big "fair use" flag. It is a case by case defense, which has to be proven in court. That means the OP would have to go to court (incurring legal fees probably well in excess of $100,000) to prove their case. MJs estate almost certainly have a host of highly paid lawyers whose job it is to protect the value in his music catalogue, image and other associated rights and who would be more than happy to tie the OP in knots.

This is the real reason why we always advise indies to avoid things like this. Sadly it isn't a case of who is right or wrong but of what you can afford. Indies can't afford to fight these kind of legal cases and it makes no sense to start down a road that will lead you into a fight you can't win.

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