Homage/ Referencing.

Discussion in 'Indie Business' started by DanMarshall, Apr 19, 2005.

  1. DanMarshall

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    How legal is it to make a reference to a movie/ game in a game?

    Say, for example (as I have) I mention John Woo. Is that legal?

    What if I've got a DooM-esque marine dead on the floor somewhere?

    What if I've got a giant (Sam &) Max head statue in the background.

    What's the law like on this? Are you all going to tell me they're someone else's IP and I'm not allowed without seeking permission?!

    D
     
  2. dima

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    I would definitely think so.
     
  3. papillon

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    On a "bonus video" that came with one of my sierra games, they joked about how they had to have a whole SEPARATE legal department just to handle problems relating to the Space Quest series, which was very fond of parody.

    The thing is, just because you're in the right doesn't mean they can't sue you. It just means that if you have enough money to fight, you'll probably win.

    It's fair to make a parody reference. It's fair to do something that REMINDS players of another game (but isn't directly ripped from it.) However, if the other party decides to kick up a fuss, do you want to have to take it to the courts?

    And of course, as the Space Quest example reminds us, sometimes even trying to get permission doesn't make you safe. They carefully licensed the Energizer Bunny for use in their game... only to find out that there was a bizarre trademark situation in which the Bunny only belonged to Energizer in the US and was a DURACELL Bunny in the rest of the world...

    What does this all boil down to? "I'm not a lawyer. I don't know. Even the LAWYERS probably don't know. Stupid lawsuit country."
     
  4. digriz

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    Movie companies tend to be very protective of their licenses. As do most large game publishers.

    A vague homage would probably be fine but using images that are from a film or game would be copyright infringement. Even images that look eerily close are on shaky ground here.

    GameAttourney would probably have a more informed view, it might be worth private messaging him via these forums.
     
  5. Hiro_Antagonist

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    John Woo is a public figure. You can't use his likeness without his consent (him saying "buy this product!"), but you can comment on him, reference him, and/or parady him. Just don't leave the player thinking he contributed or gave consent.

    I think you're fine here. Just redraw the marine. Don't use copyrighted images.

    Honestly, I wouldn't worry too much about these things. How could these companies claim damages? It certainly wouldn't be cost-efficient for them to come after you. As long as these are allusions or brief appearances of these things and your game doesn't lean too heavily on any given instance of this stuff, then I honestly don't think anyone would care.

    Of course, don't interpret this as legal advice. If you want to play it safe, don't use it at all. Or better yet, just look up some IP Law textbooks and/or websites and they'll give you a clearer idea...

    -Hiro_Antagonist
     
  6. TheBren

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    I remember in Rise of the Triad, when the player dual wielded pistols, it would print "Thank you Mr. Woo."
     
  7. Robert Cummings

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    With all due respect, I think that is the worst advice on this thread. They can and most certainly will come after you if they find out. Permission and IP is everything.

    This isn't the point: they may decide that your product cheapens them and hence costs them money. Thats very bad news.

    Finally...

    Now THATS okay! There are close to a million Woo's in hong kong, so it could be anyone. Thats the secret to a successful parody.

    Do not use names of people, images or likenesses without permission ...How big you are or even if it's freeware, does not matter. This is a very serious thing and I would be very careful. It is not worth it without permission.
     
  8. gmcbay

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    Another good homage I remember seeing is in the first Tomb Raider's tutorial level.. there is an Ark of the Covenant model sitting off to the side. Nice tip of the hat to Indy without going over the line.
     
  9. luggage

    Moderator Original Member Indie Author

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    That's not a parody that's a homage.

    Parody: A literary or artistic work that imitates the characteristic style of an author or a work for comic effect or ridicule.

    Homage: Special honor or respect shown or expressed publicly

    For something to be a successful parody it's important you know exactly who or what it's aimed at.

    You can't just argue "it could be any Mr Woo there's loads in the phone book" as it's obvious who it's referencing. Just as having a footballer called "Mr Beckham" in a footy manager game could be any Mr Beckham but it's not likely.
     
  10. dima

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    The ark has nothing to do with Indy, it just happens that Indy's ark resembles the real one, if it's still out there somewhere. :D
     
  11. Robert Cummings

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    And quite right too...

    Could call him Dave BeckPork or Davey BeckBacon then... "fun" names have been used before in even commercial games (Amiga titles often did this) back in the day when the budget or permission didn't go far enough.
     
  12. Hiro_Antagonist

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    That rule is too unnecessarily strict.

    You can parody copyrighted material or a public figure. It's legal, and fully protected under free speech. Do you think anyone that has drawn a political cartoon of Bush gets written permission first? Do you think anyone who has ever parodied Star Wars got LucasFilm's permission? Of course not. That's not how these laws work. You just need to stay within the legal confines of what *is* allowed, because you could easily slip into something that *isn't* allowed.

    You're right, though, my suggestion not to worry about it too much is poor advice, so I retract it. What I was really trying to get at, and should have stayed more on-topic with, is that if you're clearly doing parody or "fair use/fair comment", you're fine, and those are fairly far-reaching umbrellas for small snippits of de-contextualized content. Homages would tend to fall clearly under fair use.

    http://www.supercolostrum.com/Information/data/p2.htm#below

    -Hiro_Antagonist
     
  13. Coyote

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    There's a practice in movies and TV to find someone with the same name as a character (or in many characters, they'll name incidental characters on people at the studio). Said individual gets a token payment (like $1) for use of their name. Then if "Raiders of the Matrix Wars" and becomes a big hit, and some guy out in Outer Nowhere, Iowa tries to sue because his name, Neo Flyswatter, was stolen to name the main character of the movie, the studio has their legal bases covered.

    Not saying anyone should DO that, but it's one way of covering your butt in a lawsuit-happy country.
     
  14. mahlzeit

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    Just because you consider something "fair use", doesn't mean it really is. You can still be sued or pressured/bullied to remove the offending content.
     
  15. papillon

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    And again, even if it IS fair use...

    There's the porn-sailor-moon-star-wars spoof case to point to. They DID win, but lucasfilm certainly tried to sue them. :)
     
  16. Robert Cummings

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    Better safe than sorry is the rule we must live by. We cannot afford any legal entanglements as this is (for some of us) our living.
     
  17. TheBren

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    Link please? ;-)
     
  18. gmcbay

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    Google for "Star Ballz".
     
  19. Pyabo

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    The good news is the flip side to this... You can include anything you damn well want in your game and not worry about it until someone *does* come knocking.

    Personally, I wouldn't hesitate for a second to include something like this (from the original post) in one of my games. What's the worst-case scenario? I get a cease and desist letter at some point in the future asking politely to remove it from my game. Then I send them back a letter saying "OK, no problem" and that's that.

    And before you go telling me some horror story about companies actually pursuing lawsuits and seeking monetary damages, blah blah blah... I challenge you to name ONE single instance of this where the offender didn't actually deserve it, or where they didn't bring it on by refusing to cooperate. A company that owns IP it feels you are using is going to be just as hesitant to spend money on you as you are on them. The C&D is always going to be their first and best option.

    Hiro, I got your back. I think you have the right idea. Robert, you are wound too tight. :)
     
  20. Abscissa

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    Not that I am or am not recommending that strategy (IANAL), but if you do go that route, make damn sure that it would be trivial to remove in the case that you do need to remove somthing. You don't want a C&D to bring down your game for weeks/months while you rework something that's deeply embedded in the code/storyline/etc.

    Also, keep in mind that a strategy like that might also gain you an unflattering reputation among big companies. Some of whom may end up being important to you at some point for one reason or another.
     

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