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I am developing an indie 2D game. Some of the enemies are caricatures of famous characters but there is no explicit reference to their name (the only reference is that if the caricature is of a politician then the level is for example set in a Parlament).

Is this legal? Has anyone of you had a similar issues with your own projects or clients?

I remember similar cases such as games like that seems to have been able to publish it without legal issues:

  • "International Super Star Soccer Deluxe" by Konamy that were representing real football players but modifyied the names as they didn't have the FIFA license (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Superstar_Soccer_Deluxe).

  • Street Fighter the character Balrog is similar to Mike Tyson (see
    this link) but the developers changed the name in order to avoid legal sues by Tyson.

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There is no such question as "Is this legal". The only question is "Will you get sued, and will they succeed?". Those two questions are orthogonal. You need to consider the latter, not the former. –  Lasse V. Karlsen Jul 20 '12 at 21:06
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3 Answers 3

up vote 4 down vote accepted

A few years ago I worked on a game for a large corporation (5,000+ employees) which included several caricatures of famous politicians.

Our legal department validated it with the only proviso being to neither include any real names nor explicit references to individuals.

The company is UK based but the game was published online.

Whilst it's worth getting counsel for your particular case I thought my experience might provide you with some encouragement.

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Thanks Chris, brillant. This is exactly what I was hoping for. My company is for now UK based as well so I guess the case is fairly similar. Thanks a lot for yur help. I might even consider giving them totally different names to avoid misinterpretations. For explicit references I guess they meant copyrighted logos and names, and it wouldn't apply to the hairstyle and dressstyle of an actor (e.g. caracter indentical to Marilyn Monroe with the black spot on her chick). Would you be able to share a link of the published work so I get an idea? If not sorry for asking. –  mm24 Jul 19 '12 at 13:47
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Yes, exactly that sort of thing - I will have a check to see if I can dig anything out, but I think it was for the 2001 general election (woah) so might be on an old backup CD somewhere, but i'm not 100% sure. –  Chris Jul 19 '12 at 15:04
    
thanks but I don't want to bother u as I feel bad for u to have to have to look for it. I thought was a game easily available :) –  mm24 Jul 19 '12 at 16:53
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Well since famous people are public figures and as long as you don´t insult them directly I think you should be fine... But this is a law thing, I´m not sure how far this fits in here :P I think it also depends on the laws of your country

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Yep, I agree, is a law thing but I didn't find any law related stackexchange website and I thought some graphic designer might have experience in this. I am going to publish an App via iTunes in several countries (EU, USA, Japan) so I guess checking out the law of each one of those can be quiet expensive for me as indie developer. Hard one.. –  mm24 Jul 19 '12 at 10:05
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I really can´t tell which laws apply... Might be the american law since you publish it to iTunes. But then again I know that for Germany they have to have different terms of use for example. Hard one indeed. Maybe you can find some app that already contains a public figure and contact the developer. –  Jannik Ruf Jul 19 '12 at 10:14
    
Yep, that could be one solution, although is hard to find. There is a bunch of web games based on Obama and other people. My app has dozens of characters similar to famous people so I guess the likelihood that one of those would disagree if there is a law doesn't allow this is higher. I asked to the UK IPO office and they told me something on the line that if my work is an original creative work then I should be fine. This is the same as a sue case that happened in the states where a Rugby player tried to get some money off a developer but as the work was original the court disagreed –  mm24 Jul 19 '12 at 10:23
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We have a saying here: If there's no claimant, there's no judge ;) But that of course depends on your target audience and the estimated success of your app. Now that I think of it, I think it´s part of the "freedom of art" if you do something like that. They shouldn´t be able to sue you unless like I said you insult them or stuff. There are so many politicians and celebrities shown everywhere, I think you should be fine! –  Jannik Ruf Jul 19 '12 at 10:27
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I think you could protect yourself with a disclaimer like "any similarities to real persons are not intended" so you could always say that they misinterpret your game. –  Jannik Ruf Jul 19 '12 at 10:35
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Consult an attorney.

No designer is going to know the answer to this question. All answers will merely be guesses.

You need to speak to someone familiar with legal-ease.

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Yep, I agree. If I had enough founds I would immediately. I am trying to ask to some Law students and professors in the meanwhile.. –  mm24 Jul 19 '12 at 12:08
    
If you get sued it doesn't matter if you have enough funds or whatever, you'll get buried regardless. This is an issue that is definitely something you need to ask a lawyer about. If you can't (or can't afford) do that, don't do it. A misstep here will ruin your life. –  Lasse V. Karlsen Jul 20 '12 at 21:04
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