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Mathias87

Basing a game in a real city

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Where does the law stand if I based my game on New York but replaced many private businesses in the area (like Mcdonalds, Starbucks, etc) with fake ones? Is it legal to have national landmarks (statue of liberty) in my game?

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Depends on the city. Some cities have super weird regulations. With Paris, for instance, you cannot represent the Eiffel Tower in anything other than pristine form without special permission. It's also hard to say how enforceable this stuff is; we cared when I worked at a big publisher...

Retain a lawyer and have them dig for you.

-me

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Maybe there's stuff about New York. GTA IV is apparently closer to the real New York City. I've never been there, so I have no idea how close it is to the game, but they have the statue of liberty in it. She's holding a coffee tho, IIRC.

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It depends.

Distinctive landmarks are protected. Distinctive layouts of the city may be protected. A model that is very roughly based on zones of the city is probably not an issue. If you have a model of NYC that is fairly accurate but omit some landmarks, it might be an issue. If you use distinctive landmarks without permission, it is definitely an issue.

You need to talk with a lawyer who can answer the details.

If you cannot afford a lawyer, you should not be in business.

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Iconic buildings and art are usually covered by copyright. Movies have gotten in trouble for shooting on location getting permission from the building owners but not getting permission from the artist who did the sculpture out front of the building (evidently they retain copyright on their sculptures). Basically If it makes the place unique or identifiable going parody or non-use are the safest routes.

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GTA 4 has the "Statue Of Happiness", and the whole city otherwise is a parody. It's not NYC, it's Liberty City. It recreates NYC's character as a fictional place.

Hey look, the 1939 World's Fair buildings!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e50pJrxF_Vk

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Quote:
Original post by frob
It depends.

Distinctive landmarks are protected. Distinctive layouts of the city may be protected. A model that is very roughly based on zones of the city is probably not an issue. If you have a model of NYC that is fairly accurate but omit some landmarks, it might be an issue. If you use distinctive landmarks without permission, it is definitely an issue.

You need to talk with a lawyer who can answer the details.

If you cannot afford a lawyer, you should not be in business.


I'm not really inclined to take frob's hard line approach on this because I think it's smart for kids, students,and the like to practice, get experience, and otherwise experiment with code and programming to figure out if it's worth making a career out of.


That being said MY particular advice is this-- if you can't afford a lawyer, don't do things that will raise obvious legal questions.

If you can't afford a lawyer don't do anything that would compel you to have to ask a legal question. IP law isn't exactly a simple topic. The question you asked is too general for any competant attorney to take on.

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There were a couple of games set in scaled-down recreations of London; some of the buildings were "generic", others actually looked like the buildings. There was roaming taxi-driver sub-game in one of them so we used it to explore what they'd done with the city.

Generally, even where they'd modelled specific buildings, anything "IP" sensitive had gone. For example the building that used to contain the "Murder 1" bookshop on Charing X Rd is pretty distinctive -- it's got brick pillars and stuff. So the building is in the game, but the shopfronts are all generic ones which say "Travel Agent" and "BANK" and so on. My friend's flat is in there, but again, the bar on the groundfloor has been replaced by "Travel Agent". The building where I used to live was *in* the game but not actually reachable (it's just off the map edge) so I don't know what they did about the motorbike shop at the front of the courtyard.

So the answer is yes, it's possibly doable. However, you might want to think about the complications of doing this -- there's a LOT of geometry in there to have to model...


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What about the city's name in general? What if all copyright laws are followed in regards to landmarks or distinctive buildings, combined with the GTA parody approach, could I still use the "New York" name?

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Quote:
Original post by Mathias87
What about the city's name in general? What if all copyright laws are followed in regards to landmarks or distinctive buildings, combined with the GTA parody approach, could I still use the "New York" name?


Quote:
Original post by madelelaw
If you can't afford a lawyer don't do anything that would compel you to have to ask a legal question.


i.e. this stuff is complicated and potentially perilous legal ground. If you need to ask if you can do it, the answer is no unless you can afford to pay a lawyer to research it for you. It depends on the city, the local laws, the copyright claims of the people who own the buildings, etc. i.e. you need to pay a lawyer to research the specific exact thing that you want to do.

So unless you can pay a lawyer to answer it for you:
don't use any landmarks
don't call it new york
don't use any NYC street names
don't do anything that makes it explicitly new york

just make it look kind of like new york: similar building styles, similar weather, fashion, etc.

-me

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I was browsing wikipedia about GTA's San Fierro (parody of San Francisco) and was wondering how they were able to get away with using landmarks (such as the Golden Gate Bridge, Trans American Building, etc) without any law suits? Obviously Rockstar changed the names but the real life landmarks look almost identical to ones found in GTA's San Fierro. Was Rockstar able to get away with this because of minor changes to the look of these landmarks coupled with fake names?

http://media.giantbomb.com/uploads/0/3/10052-sanfierro.jpg
http://www.vdevicio.com/wp-content/uploads/2007/07/gtasa_pc_city_view_san_fierro_gant_bridge.jpg

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Probably because they paid the city of San Francisco dollars to license the IP. That's how such deals typically work

"Hi, I'm a giant multi-billion dollar company and I want to use your IP in a game"
"Cool that'll be X tens of thousands of dollars"
"No problem" -> drives in dumptruck of cash

But if they didn't pay to license they definitely paid lawyers to research the problem.

-me

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Quote:
Original post by Mathias87
I was ... wondering how they were able to get away with using landmarks... without any law suits? ... Was Rockstar able to get away with this because of ...?

Nobody said that it's a certainty that somebody would get sued for this.
There isn't a big mystery why these instances "got away with" anything.
The real mystery is whether something will happen to those guys in the future (it still could) or whether something would happen to you or me if we tried doing the same thing.
If you're willing to take the risk, that's YOUR beeswax.
Our advice remains, don't do stuff that you have to ask if you might get sued for.
That might be interpreted as "don't do anything," but each individual has to draw his own line of fear in the sand.

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Quote:
Original post by Palidine
Depends on the city. Some cities have super weird regulations. With Paris, for instance, you cannot represent the Eiffel Tower in anything other than pristine form without special permission. It's also hard to say how enforceable this stuff is; we cared when I worked at a big publisher...

Retain a lawyer and have them dig for you.

-me

Any information to back this up? It is the lights that have protection not the building.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eiffel_Tower#Image_copyright_claims

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Quote:
Original post by magic_man
Quote:
Original post by Palidine
Depends on the city. Some cities have super weird regulations. With Paris, for instance, you cannot represent the Eiffel Tower in anything other than pristine form without special permission.
Retain a lawyer and have them dig for you.

Any information to back this up? It is the lights that have protection not the building.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eiffel_Tower#Image_copyright_claims

The fact of some minor Eiffel Tower IP information being stated on Wikipedia does not negate the advice.
It does vary by city.
Retain a lawyer if your business depends on your taking a legal risk.

[Edited by - Tom Sloper on March 12, 2010 9:51:22 PM]

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Quote:
Original post by Tom Sloper
The fact of some minor Eiffel Tower IP factoid being stated on Wikipedia does not negate the advice.

It has been pointed out to me that I misunderstood the meaning of the word "factoid."
Therefore I hereby change the above to the following:
Quote:
The fact of some minor Eiffel Tower IP information being stated on Wikipedia does not negate the advice.

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Quote:
Original post by magic_man
Any information to back this up? It is the lights that have protection not the building.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eiffel_Tower#Image_copyright_claims


That's what a team I was working on was told by our lawyers. It's not linkable fact, but ya know. And who knows, maybe our producer told us that because he hated the eiffel tower idea. Over-arching point being, who knows? not the internet necessarily. So ask a lawyer.

-me

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Quote:
Original post by Palidine
Quote:
Original post by magic_man
Any information to back this up? It is the lights that have protection not the building.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eiffel_Tower#Image_copyright_claims


That's what a team I was working on was told by our lawyers. It's not linkable fact, but ya know. And who knows, maybe our producer told us that because he hated the eiffel tower idea. Over-arching point being, who knows? not the internet necessarily. So ask a lawyer.

-me


The eiffel tower was built for the 1889 world faire, so any copyright on the building design itself would have expired by now, the name might be trademarked though and french courts have rules that the nighttime lights are protected. (those were added fairly recently)

For other buildings and national landmarks the same thing basically applies, really old buildings can't be protected (In sweden copyright lasts for the lifetime of the author plus 70 years so pretty much any design that is older than 150 years is safe to use.

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Don't forget though, even with old buildings you need to see who the copyright was assigned to. For example, if an architecture firm designed the building the copyright would be assigned to the firm and not the actual person who did it.

From there it could have been transferred in buyouts and other things of the like. IP law has pretty much taken a bad turn in the US, so I usually say unless you can 100% verify that it is public domain, if you didn't make it don't use it.

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