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ioannis

A game's story, names and places

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Hello everyone,

I'm new to this so I have some questions for the more legal savvy than me here :)

I'm currently writing a story for an adventure game. In my mind this story takes place in a existing-real world island. This includes stores, people and locations in that place. I wouldn't want to use the actual names of businesses in that place nor the actual names of people. But as far as locations are concerned I'll definitely want to use the actual naming. Is this possible? Could my business get in trouble by this? Could I get in trouble for similarities? Same business in same place , different name? (like a parody). Are there are any papers I can have people sign that will avoid me getting sued over this? (this is a small place, people might actually agree to be part of the game)

I hope I make sense!

Thank you for your time.

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I am not a lawyer, but here's what I think:

If you do not include any trademarked names or logos, you should be fine. Nothing about the way a town is laid-out is even a creative work, much less copyrightable. So trademarks are your only concern. If you don't use the trademarks at all, trademark infringement is impossible.

As for people, for privacy reasons you can't actually include real people's likenesses without their permission. But it wouldn't be a problem to have characters that happen to have superficially similar appearances to real people. I'd suggest not making characters 1:1 copies of people, not for legal reasons, but to avoid any possible concerns the residents of this town may have regarding things like stalking and harassment.

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These were exactly my thoughts, I just needed a second  / third opinion. Thank you for taking the time.

I guess another appealing choice in favor of fantasy worlds is to avoid this. :)

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On 7/31/2017 at 2:40 AM, ioannis said:

Same business in same place , different name? (like a parody).

No, that is not a parody.  A parody is when you are making a big statement about the entire thing.  If your game is not focused on making a statement about it then it isn't a parody.  Most people misunderstand what a parody is.  If you are making a major statement about a thing, and using the thing itself to make that statement, that is a parody.  

If you write an entire book about a Wells Fargo-like bank that is intentionally making a bunch of scandals in an effort to make a commentary about Wells Fargo and all their banking scandals, then your use is a parody. If you are making a clip about how Mario is an abusive attacker who invaded Bowser's Kingdom, and how Bowser and his koopa family are defending themselves from the menace, then use of the characters is a parody. If you write a story based on the world of Gone with the Wind from the view of a slave who must deal with the crazy lives of the people in power as a commentary on the era, that is a parody.

If you include Wells Fargo to make fun of them, if you include Mario and Bowser because they could have a funny cameo, if you wanted to use Scarlet because she could make a great statement in your game, none of those are parodies.

 

On 7/31/2017 at 2:40 AM, ioannis said:

Is this possible? Could my business get in trouble by this? Could I get in trouble for similarities?

Can it happen? Yes. People can sue for any reason imaginable.  Courts will quickly throw out the bad ones, but you'd still need to pay for a legal defense.

Understanding your actual risk would require studying your actual use. Any distinctive element can have IP protections, and there are many protections out there beyond the big three of copyright, trademark, and patent. 

You can certainly set your story in an existing city. Setting your story in New York City, or Los Angeles, or the small town of Forks WA is not a problem. And you can use real places in the city, with some rare exceptions. Going to Central Park, or China Town, or Founders Park are not a problem. Using actual businesses, actual buildings, actual designs, those can get you in trouble even if you are using them in a positive way.  Having a character go to Joe's Diner on 3rd and Vine can get you in legal trouble if Joe doesn't approve.  Renaming it to Moe's diner won't help.

The closer you come to real-world elements or to other people's creative items the bigger your risk.  Only you can decide if you are comfortable with that level of risk.  Some discussions with a lawyer about the details of your project can help you get realistic assessments of the risk. Sometimes risks are much smaller than you fear. Other times risks are much larger than you believed. The only way to know is to arrange for some reviews by someone who works in that field, which means talking with a lawyer.

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