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Legal use of locations in games

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#1   Members   


Posted 14 July 2012 - 01:49 AM

I am an Indie game developer and I am currently developing some racing games. I would like to use real locations in my games and would like to know if anyone has any advice to offer?

Some examples:

1) One game would use real stages from the World Rally Championship. For example - Rally Sweden, ideally with the use of real stage names such as Sagen, Fredriksberg and Vargasen. These stage names are usually named after the town in the area.

2) Another game would race through a real city such as London where ideally I would like to model the city including famous landmarks such as Trafalgar Square. For realism it would be great to include textures of shop fronts and famous landmarks. How far can I go with making this photorealistic - would I need permission to use known shopfronts in the game? Can I use all the streets/landmarks of London?

3) Can I use the actual race tracks in my games? e.g. Silverstone Circuit (UK), stages used in Rally Sweden or the roads of Monte Carlo. I would be modelling these myself using satellite maps.

Many thanks in advance!

#2   Moderators   


Posted 14 July 2012 - 02:24 AM

N.B. the usual disclaimers -- IANAL, TINLA.

You'll probably find some good information on photography websites, as these are the same problems that photographers have to deal with.
Here in Australia, if you're on public property when taking your photographs, then you own the copyright to them. If you're on private property, you need the owner's permission (and any photos taken without permission are legally grey). There are some exceptions to this, as local councils can designate certain public places to be under the authority of a private group, which you'll need permission from (and any photos taken without permission could result in a fine).

So (2) should usually be OK as long as the subject matter is viewable from public streets, but you'd best check with the city council to be safe.
However, (3) would most likely require the permission of the circuit owner as you're reproducing the interior of a privately owned space -- they can claim that your reproduction is a violation of their copyright on the architecture of that place. Depending on the jurisdiction (copyright varies a lot from country to country), then commercial use of your reproduction may be perfectly fine, as long as the architecture that you've reproduced is normally visible from a public place... The safest option would be to ask the circuit owners ;)

If you're reproducing them from satellite maps, then technically that's a derivative work, and you'd also need to obtain permission from the owner of the maps to do so... However, this rule is commonly broken by all sorts of artists who use such things as "reference art", and don't believe that their work is "derived from" their references. Most companies that I've worked for do allow their artists to use unlicensed reference art (e.g. google images is a very common place for artists to find reference ideas), but when I worked for a big corporation (with too many lawyers on the payroll), our artists were only allowed to look at references that we had licensed (and you'd be disciplined for being inspired by google images)...

I'm not sure about (1) -- the "stages" are produced by the WRC people, and directly copying these creations may well be a reproduction of their own creative work -- i.e. copyright infringement. Using obvious names for things, like the name of a geographical location, should be ok... but if you've copied everything, such as the order that stages appear, the names of them, the layouts, etc... then in that context, you're not just using an obvious name, but are copying their whole creation.

Edited by Hodgman, 14 July 2012 - 02:39 AM.

#3   Members   


Posted 14 July 2012 - 04:08 AM

You are right to ask, as this is a potential legal minefield.

Hodgman is right this has a lot in common with the issues in commercial photography, and the movie business. As always IANAL, my only experience is from a bit of stock photography where these issues come up all the time.

The best thing to do would be to consult a specialist lawyer, however, even they may be unable to give you a definitive answer on all the different issues you've brought up (they won't be able to say, you won't get sued, just minimize the chances). It seems likely that many game companies making these type of games may have extensive legal departments / resources for these types of issues, not to mention they are probably also officially licensed by the holders of the events concerned.

To give you some idea though, work on the assumption that EVERYONE who has an interest in something you are representing will consider their options to sue you. They don't even have to see it, all it takes is a friend of a friend seeing it and mentioning it, and they will be offended you decided to commercially exploit their 'intellectual property' without compensating them. It doesn't even matter that you are an independent, making next to nothing, after all everyone knows the game industry is worth billions. And holders of trademarks etc may sue because they have to, to protect their rights (if you use their intellectual property without permission, why shouldn't anyone else?).

Most people are unaware of these issues, but just watch a hollywood movie. Notice how none of the people in the background are wearing clothes with labels on them. There's not a nike, an adidas, a coca cola, a macdonalds, etc etc. There are no logos, except invented ones, or ones that are sponsoring the movie. Everything is generic.

If you want to minimize your risks, if you were doing the stages of a rally (you might not be able to mention the rally by name though lol), instead of painstakingly recreating locations, just make them generic and roughly approximate to real locations.

Regarding tracks, the names will be trademarked, shapes will be registered in whatever ways are possible in their country. You will have to check the local laws of each country involved, as they can vary considerably (for instance, in france you can't take a photo of someone in the street in the same way you can in the uk).

And finally if you do release something like this, don't even think about doing it unless you are under the protection of a limited liability company or partnership. This way if someone sues they hopefully (but not always) will take the company to the cleaners but not you.

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#4   Members   


Posted 16 July 2012 - 05:41 AM

This is a lot to consider and I agree it really looks like a minefield. I'll think I'll proceed carefully and keep everything generic unless I have obtained permission or consulted a lawyer first.

Many thanks to you both, I really appreciate the advice.

#5   GDNet+   


Posted 16 July 2012 - 07:57 AM

Copyright in architecture in the United States

As applicable to film

Traditionally, architectural work has not been considered a derivative work in American location shooting, but as the effects of architectural copyright settle in, more architectural copyright holders are starting to demand it,[64] and this practice may open up a wide field of litigation, especially in California. Although architectural copyright does not apply to pictures if the architectural work is regularly visible from a public place, it does not make such an exemption for the interior of a non-public building. Producers of news photography and filmography is theoretically protected by the first amendment or through the fair use doctrine.

This contrasts with the practices of other countries such as France where producers regularly pay an architectural copyright fee.

It should also be noted that copyrighted architecture created by organisations eg. corporate entities can be very much in a grey area due to their not dying persay, unlike us mortals who have our works protected for 70 years after our deaths...unless specific provisions are made. But the law in this area is very murky and has not truly been established definitively as of yet (that I am aware of).

#6   Members   


Posted 16 July 2012 - 08:02 AM

just watch a hollywood movie. Notice how none of the people in the background are wearing clothes with labels on them. There's not a nike, an adidas, a coca cola, a macdonalds

Except for product placement, of course. Your new car, Mr. Bond, a BMW. Almost all computers in recent movies are Apple laptops, those that aren't are Dell. For years, all phones used to be Nokias (The Saint, anyone?). The Island is more or less a 136min Microsoft / Cadillac commercial. Blade Runner teaches us that Atari is still a major computer manufacturer in 2019, and Coca Cola covers half of L.A.

That said, I'm not sure if you can just take pictures (legally), even from public ground, of shops and their trademarked names without permission. Nor of the people inside and in front of them.
Taking pictures non-celeb people may be "ok" in some countries, but it certainly is against the law in several EU countries. Note that e.g. in Germany it's the fact of taking the pictures, it does not matter whether or not you mask the faces later. The CEO of Google Germany was just lucky that apparently nobody made a criminal complaint, because "hey we are blurring out faces immediately" doesn't do.

There are of course exceptions, for example when you take a picture of a public monument and some people are incidentially on the photo, that's just bad luck for them. On the other hand, explicitly making photos of shops (with people in them) and using them as textures would likely make your point somewhat hard to explain.

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