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Using RealWorld People in Games and law?

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Hello, i would like to ask, if i would wanted to make game where there would be some famous people existing in the real world, is that possible (legally, wont anybody sue me?) More info:

"Famous existing people"- I do not mean now mainly some "stars" like Kim Kardashiens, or some singer, but i mean mainly people in "politics and history". Lets say for example i would like to make a game where there will be General Eisenhower (some strategy game for example from 2nd world war), or Eistein. Or even for example in some cutscene on TV current president Obama... That means "public figures".

 

1) Am i allowed to use the real names of these characters (with some random face)? Is it Legal? (of course i wont have any signed agreement from Eisenhower or Obama or Einsten :-) ). Would it be legal?

 

2) Am i allowed to use their Real Face (or try to emulate their real face as close as possible)? Is it again legal?

 

Can someone elaborate on that more deeply please?

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There are several sets of laws, and they vary by country.

 

There are publicity rights, personality rights, celebrity rights, and public figure rights, to name a few.

 

There is a great deal of nuance involved. Exactly what information you present about them is important. Exactly how they are presented is important. A slight change in those from what was described can make your use slip from legal and easily defensible to becoming an infringing use that is hard to defend.

 

You really need to discuss the exact details with a lawyer. 

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Thanks for replies, will read! :-)

 

"There is a great deal of nuance involved...."

 

Yeah thats exactly what i thought... so the best way will be to go with fictional names...

 

But even with fictional names and random faces, how close can i get, whats your experience...?

 

For example ill make a game where there is a Black President (as current president of the USA as portrayed in the game), he will have just a general black mans face (not modelled to anyone in particular), but will have the name for example:

 

"Harry Ebony", or "Bertold Adomu"?

 

Would this be sufficient for me to be cleared from any problems, what do you think?

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how close can i get, whats your experience...?

FAQ.

 

You are asking wrong questions. How fast can you speed before you get caught? How close to the edge of a cliff can you drive without falling off? How many banks can you rob without getting caught? These are all along the same vein. The question should never be "how much can I get away with."

 

Don't do it at all.  Don't even approach the edge.  Stay far away from it.  Make your own stuff and be creative.

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Don't do it at all. Don't even approach the edge. Stay far away from it. Make your own stuff and be creative.

 

You hit the nail on the head with that one. This is less a question of 'can you' and more a question of 'should you' and the short answer is no.

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I worked on a game recently where the player-base demands lots of likenesses, but they were impossible to license. The solution this developer came up with was to ship the game with a character creator so players could create the likenesses themselves, and a sharing server so they could give them to other players. n.b. The sharing server has to have a process in place to deal with DMCA take-down notices.

 

When you first start the game, the first thing it asks you is if you'd like to replace the default (non-real) characters with the most popular replacements from the sharing server, which always happen to be the real people they're supposed to be laugh.png

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I worked on a game recently where the player-base demands lots of likenesses, but they were impossible to license. The solution this developer came up with was to ship the game with a character creator so players could create the likenesses themselves, and a sharing server so they could give them to other players. n.b. The sharing server has to have a process in place to deal with DMCA take-down notices.

 

And the coin flip goes to, DMCA safe harbor laws! \o/

 

However, if you make it look too closely like you're trying to encourage your userbase to infringe on your behalf, winking at your fans while giving copyright holders the middle finger, a judge might not be too pleased about that, and side with the copyright holder. Point in check: The Pirate Bay doesn't actually host any pirated content - they just let their users upload tiny text files (torrent files) that point to where the real content is hosted (on user's computers, not Pirate Bay's servers). But because it's obvious that, even though they aren't technically infringing on anything, they are trying to facilitate the pirating of content, the government has consistently gone against them in favor of the copyright owners.

 

And regardless, anyone can sue you for anything, and even if it gets thrown out of court, it'll still cost you money to defend yourself, so this route may not be the best route for indie developers.

Edited by Servant of the Lord

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I worked on a game recently where the player-base demands lots of likenesses, but they were impossible to license. The solution this developer came up with was to ship the game with a character creator so players could create the likenesses themselves, and a sharing server so they could give them to other players. n.b. The sharing server has to have a process in place to deal with DMCA take-down notices.

 

When you first start the game, the first thing it asks you is if you'd like to replace the default (non-real) characters with the most popular replacements from the sharing server, which always happen to be the real people they're supposed to be laugh.png

 

 

YAY! :-) thats a really good idea, nice work-around :-).

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Ok, btw that deserve its own thread but i will start it here?

 

If the team is lets say somewhere from eastern europe and it gets sued (for the reason mentioned above or anything else), lets say in the USA, how does that go?

 

1) Would i be given some lawyer and the state will pay for it? (thats common in some countries)?

2) What happens if i do not show up?

3) Even if i do not show up and i am found guilty, is there a way to enforce the law (since im from eastern europe country)? Whould would enforce it? interpol :-D?

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Whould would enforce it? interpol :-D?


The case would appear in a court of the country where you're being sued (not your country).
Depending on the severity of the offense and the judgment against you: If you travel to a country where the law is enforceable, you could be stopped at the airport in that country (your name will set off an alarm in the computer, and immigration will hold you). Which means you could never go to (or through an airport of) that country.
Just guessing (I'm not a lawyer). You should talk to a lawyer.

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Whould would enforce it? interpol :-D?


The case would appear in a court of the country where you're being sued (not your country).
Depending on the severity of the offense and the judgment against you: If you travel to a country where the law is enforceable, you could be stopped at the airport in that country (your name will set off an alarm in the computer, and immigration will hold you). Which means you could never go to (or through an airport of) that country.
Just guessing (I'm not a lawyer). You should talk to a lawyer.

 

 

Roman Polanski comes to mind - famous polish-born (AFAIK) movie director, that got convicted for child abuse in the US and fled to europe, where he was able to live freely in france and switzerland because both countries, while generally cooperating with the US legally, didn't act on the extradition demanded by the US for many years (mainly because of popular sympathy with Roman Polanksi in europe, and the incongruencies between the european and US legal systems... ).

 

3-4 years ago, for some reason, the whole thing changed overnight. Switzerland received yet another demand for extradition from the US (and Polanski now lived in switzerland), and while the swiss government did not act on it immidiatly, they decided to keep polanksi under arrest while they figured out what to do with this newest demand.

No idea why it suddenly became a hot topic. In the end, Polanksi was able to unofficially leave the country without being shipped to the US (and swiss officials most probably were happy they were not the ones who had to shove him in a plane), but switzerland is now the next country he most probably will never show his face in again. Because the next time, switzerland might feel compelled to act upon US demands.

 

So while it all sounds like a happy ending for Polanski, and he still has lots of support over here... the ice is getting thin under his feet, even in good old europe. And he is a very famous director, and has lots of vocal (and influential) support on his side.

 

 

So unless you have a big fan base of powerful people behind you, I wouldn't count on any country (besides maybe russia, currently) not shipping you to the US if you get convicted over there. You might just be prevented from flying stateside for some years or doing business there... but one day, somebody might remember you and sent another demand for extradition to your easter european country of choice. Maybe just in time for a pro-US or contra-Russian government trying to make up for years of neglected relationship with the US. Maybe they figure out that by playing to their rules for some time, they can be buddy-buddy with the US government.

 

Maybe you will shipped to the US as a gift for the newfound friendship, who knows?

 

 

Never feel too safe from international legal backlash. You might be safe today, you might be safe in 10 years. But that does not mean you are safe forever.

 

 

 

Just my 2 cents

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3) Even if i do not show up and i am found guilty, is there a way to enforce the law (since im from eastern europe country)? Whould would enforce it? interpol :-D?

They can go after the company that's been selling your game, force them to stop selling it, and seize any profits you've made so far in order to pay for their damages.

Even if you're not using a middle-man like Steam, you'd be hosting the game on a web-server somewhere. The company that owns that web-server will probably cooperate rather than become an outlaw like you, so they'll shut you down. If you're hosting your own servers out of your bedroom, then they'll go to your ISP and get you cut off the internets.

Needless to say, it's not a good idea to try and run an illegal business...

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Wow thanks for responses, all interesting, to the point and quite knowledgeable, its quite a change in comparison to other forums on the internet (even those dedicated to profesionals), im liking it here more and more :-).

 

BTW "....Of course, it's unlikely that Ricki's offense rises to the level of jail time, depending on the amount of the unpaid judgment levied against him for violating someone's right of publicity. Still, it's better to just not get sued in the first place..."

 

 

Well thats quite hard these days, didnt even Notch (author of Minecraft) had some problems with his new games "Scrolls" with Bethesda lawyers, because it supposedly violated their "Elder of SCROLLS" brand :-)?

 

I of course do not want to get sued, but its getting harder and harder in todays world, especially in America.

 

Well i gues i will have to just read all the articles you suggested and those articleswill suggest and then eventually hire some lawyer to answer my additional questions.

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1) Would i be given some lawyer and the state will pay for it? (thats common in some countries)?

2) What happens if i do not show up?

3) Even if i do not show up and i am found guilty, is there a way to enforce the law (since im from eastern europe country)? Whould would enforce it? interpol :-D?

 

 

1) Highly doubtful.  Violating the right of publicity is a civil, not criminal offense.  I.e. you are 'sued' not 'arrested' for it.

2) if you don't show up, you will not be able to present your case and make it a lot more likely you will lose

3) there are many ways someone could enforce the judgement against you.  For example, the credit card company processing your payments could stop taking them, your distribution mechanism could be stopped, etc, etc.

 

That all said, I think that this escalated quite quickly beyond what reasonable action might actually occur in the real world.

 

IMHO, you should not let worries about violating the right of publicity stop you from making a game about public figures or historical figures.  Keep in mind that the closer you get to 'celebrity' (actor, athlete, etc.) as opposed to 'public figure' (eg a politician, etc.) the more likely you will be sued.

 

There are plenty of films, books, tv shows, etc that reference recent historical people; you don't need to get permission from the Eisenhower Estate to do write a biography of Eisenhower.

 

Here's some more fun reading on the topic: http://iplaw.hllaw.com/articles/rights-of-publicity-and-privac/

 

And even more (Discusses Europe): http://digitalcommons.law.uga.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1045&context=stu_llm

Edited by bschmidt1962

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