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(IP Law) An in-joke, an hommage or a copyright infringment?

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#1 c-Row   Members   


Posted 23 October 2013 - 02:42 AM

Anybody knows what's the legal situation with humorous nods and in-jokes towards other games and universes? I mean...


... I can spot several items here which are definitely not part of the Space Quest universe, but I can't imagine they went out and asked for permission on each and every one of them (which would of course be the safest option).

Putting the doctor's T.A.R.D.I.S in a backalley of your adventure game set in London? The shape of the Millennium Falcon on a landing pad in the background of your space sim? Is there any line to draw here?



#2 Tom Sloper   Moderators   


Posted 23 October 2013 - 07:29 AM

The "line to draw" is fuzzy.  Is the reference fleeting and minor? Does it become a hot Youtube view? Does chat about it rise to the level of Internet meme?  What kind of mood is the IP owner in when s/he hears about or finds your "homage"? 


Give up trying to figure out where the "line" is drawn.  It depends on your risk-taking comfort level.  Everybody has to draw his own line.

-- Tom Sloper
Sloperama Productions
Making games fun and getting them done.

Please do not PM me. My email address is easy to find, but note that I do not give private advice.

#3 rip-off   Moderators   


Posted 23 October 2013 - 07:54 AM

Disclaimer, I am not a copyright lawyer.

Whether your usage turns out to be legal or not, you can be sued for any alleged infringement. The cost of fighting that to the point where you can win might be problematic. On the other hand, the legal cost pursuing such a trivial potential infringement might be deemed excessive by the copyright holder. On the other hand, some companies might have in-house lawyers, and they might as well be out doing something rather than sitting there encrypting the EULA.

There are usually conditions before copyright infringement has occurred, and I would guess such usage would usually fail to meet these conditions. For example, one copyright defence in the US is parody. To the far left of the screenshot posted there appears to be the back of one of these Star Wars space ships. I believe that merely including the work isn't a parody. However, maybe if there was a sequence in the game where this ship's unfolding wings gets in the way of the other ships launching, that might be considered a parody (disclaimer part deux: In addition to not being a lawyer, I am not a comedian either). I don't know whether that would suffice to protect the usage, and of course giving a more prominent position to a copyrighted work could actually elevate the risk of litigation.

In general, I think you might better focus on making your own game funny, if that is your goal, rather than placing copyrighted works as "in jokes" into the game.

Edited by rip-off, 23 October 2013 - 07:56 AM.

#4 OandO   Members   


Posted 26 October 2013 - 09:43 AM

It's a Lambda Shuttle next to a fuel pump, something that never comes up in the films because it wouldn't fit the mood of the scene, but presumably has to happen at some point. I'd argue it is a parody because it's gently mocking the serious nature of the scene by exposing the practical inner-workings that the audience never normally gets to see.

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