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Thread: Question regarding video game copyrights...

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    Cherry (Level 1)
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    Default Question regarding video game copyrights...

    I stumbled upon a website the other night that had video game art for sale. What I mean is that this person draws his/her own artwork based on a game and sells it on the website. I will not say the name of the site because I do not want to get anyone in trouble. I am just curious. Is it legal to make artwork of a video game franchise (characters and so forth) and make money off it?

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    I'd say...probably...no-ish.

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    Default Re: Question regarding video game copyrights...

    Quote Originally Posted by cr0n0
    I stumbled upon a website the other night that had video game art for sale. What I mean is that this person draws his/her own artwork based on a game and sells it on the website. I will not say the name of the site because I do not want to get anyone in trouble. I am just curious. Is it legal to make artwork of a video game franchise (characters and so forth) and make money off it?
    Well I had a friend draw cartoony representaions of the Vic Viper and Lord British from LifeForce (Salamander) and I put "SHOOT THE CORE!" under them in an arcade font, no problem, right? The ships were cartoony (kinda like the Parodius versions but totally different) and "shoot the core" - no matter how related to the Gradius series it is (practically the slogan of the series) it is NOT a copyrighted trademark.

    Well a local silk screener wouldn't put it on a shirt, nor would a printing company. And cafepress tagged it as being copyrighted but couldn't give me a straight answer as to why.

    ...this is why the artwork she is doing for me for my emulation cabinet is going to be printed by myself. It's basically her visualizations based upon the sprites and some background information of classic NES and SNES games (my girlfriend really doesn't play video games - must be love) so they have a unique yet familar look.

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    If you want to go with the letter of the law, you cannot create art (or any kind; music, movie, art, etc) based upon the copyrighted work of someone else. Legally you can't paint a picture of Q*Bert and sell it any more than you could make a Super Mario movie or write a book about the adventures of Pac-Man.

    I know that there are laws that allow usage when it comes to parodies (such as Saturday Night Live or Weird Al) , but I'm pretty sure if someone is just painting a picture of a video game character, that's illegal (it would be the same as sticking a picture of Pac-Man on a t-shirt and selling it).

    The odds of getting busted for such a thing is probably directly tied to the amount of exposure the item receives, the amount it's selling for, and whether or not it's competing with an officially licensed product. Skirting around those things doesn't make it any more legal, but it does limit the chances of garnering someone's attention.

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    I've worked as a copyright attorney, and Flack is right on. Making the Q*Bert painting or Super Mario movie or Pac-Man book is called "preparing a derivative work" in copyright jargon. Only the copyright holder can prepare or authorize the preparation of derivative works (lawfully).

    So that was why Cafepress, etc. refused to print the Vic Viper shirts. The graphics were definite sticking points. As to whether you could lawfully print and sell shirts without the Vic Viper graphic that simply said "shoot the core", well, there are issues there that I'd have to spend some time remembering. It's possible that Konami's copyright would cover it, but there could be some arguing that it doesn't. And then there could be an entirely separate fight about trademark. FYI, copyright and trademark are two entirely different beasties.
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    So, are these retro t-shirts (like the Nintendo 1-up mushroom one sold at Think Geek) legal or not?

    I supposed that a well-known site like 80stees.com must be selling their shirts under license, aren't they?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Lady Jaye
    So, are these retro t-shirts (like the Nintendo 1-up mushroom one sold at Think Geek) legal or not?
    Guess it depends on whether they're being produced/sold under license, as you point out in your next sentence.

    Quote Originally Posted by Lady Jaye
    I supposed that a well-known site like 80stees.com must be selling their shirts under license, aren't they?
    I would imagine so.

    I've got one of those 1-up mushroom t-shirts. I sure hope I don't get a restraining order. Or worse, an angry Nintendo lawyer running up behind me and ripping it off of my body.
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    Thinkgeek and gameskins, in my opinion, do a great job of skirting the issue by making the material more of a reference, or tribute, to the "parent work" - if that's even a real term - than directly ripping off the work.

    Forgive me for getting hypothetical, and when I really need to know this I'll ask a lawyer, but I'm curious.

    Does it sound illegal to create depictions of a game's box, media and manual for display in a game that is, essentially, an historical simulation of collecting video games? I'm talking accurate 3d models of those elements as well as consoles and accessories that can be bought from a virtual store and displayed in a virtual house. (Kind of like Animal Crossing meets Grand Theft Auto.)

    I would think it no more illegal than the Digital Press guide showing pictures of carts or boxes in its book, but I don't know jack, so I'm asking for someone's hunch.
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    Quote Originally Posted by bargora
    Quote Originally Posted by Lady Jaye
    So, are these retro t-shirts (like the Nintendo 1-up mushroom one sold at Think Geek) legal or not?
    Guess it depends on whether they're being produced/sold under license, as you point out in your next sentence.
    I've got two Nintendo themed T-shirts, and they both say "Copyright 2003 Nintendo" on them in very small lettering, so I assume that they are used under license.

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    Hey, doesn't the 8-bit theatre guy have a cafepress store? Or did at one time anyway..havent' been there in years.

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    Default Re: Question regarding video game copyrights...

    Quote Originally Posted by InsaneDavid

    Well I had a friend draw cartoony representaions of the Vic Viper and Lord British from LifeForce (Salamander) and I put "SHOOT THE CORE!" under them in an arcade font, no problem, right? The ships were cartoony (kinda like the Parodius versions but totally different) and "shoot the core" - no matter how related to the Gradius series it is (practically the slogan of the series) it is NOT a copyrighted trademark.
    I love "Lifeforce" and i wish i could see this picture of the ships.

    BTW, the 2nd player ship is called "Lord British"?

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    Quote Originally Posted by mezrabad
    Thinkgeek and gameskins, in my opinion, do a great job of skirting the issue by making the material more of a reference, or tribute, to the "parent work" - if that's even a real term - than directly ripping off the work.
    I guess then that's why there isn't more outright game-themed visual tees at thinkgeek. If they can't get the license, say, for Pac-Man from Namco, then that's probably when they go for the indirect message instead.

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    Copyright law is a pretty interesting thing. And we can really thank Disney for making it into such a big issue that almost everyone is afraid to do anything now.

    I agree with everyone that have said that it would probably be considered "preparing a derivative work," however some more things can come into play -- if the work is intended as art and will only sold once (each picture is an individual one, no copies would ever be made) it could be argued that you don't need the original permission for various reasons. But it would be much safer to get it first than it would be to make the items and then try.

    Also, copyright law greatly favors large companies, and I believe (please feel free to correct me if I'm wrong) that you can copyright things that you use in a product at pretty much any time -- so even if the slogan of "Shoot the Core" isn't copyrighted now, if Konami wanted to sue you on it they could based on the fact that they might have copyrighted it in the future. I don't remember the specifics, but there are some strange things involved with stuff like that.

    Lastly, the reason why a place like CafePress would be very wary of pressing shirts that probably will avoid the copyright issue is twofold -- the first issue is that if anyone gets sued, it won't be you for making the design -- it would be CafePress for selling it. CafePress has a lot more to lose if they get sued than you do for only selling the shirt.
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    Quote Originally Posted by bargora
    I've worked as a copyright attorney, and Flack is right on. Making the Q*Bert painting or Super Mario movie or Pac-Man book is called "preparing a derivative work" in copyright jargon. Only the copyright holder can prepare or authorize the preparation of derivative works (lawfully).

    So that was why Cafepress, etc. refused to print the Vic Viper shirts. The graphics were definite sticking points. As to whether you could lawfully print and sell shirts without the Vic Viper graphic that simply said "shoot the core", well, there are issues there that I'd have to spend some time remembering. It's possible that Konami's copyright would cover it, but there could be some arguing that it doesn't. And then there could be an entirely separate fight about trademark. FYI, copyright and trademark are two entirely different beasties.

    Isn't there some exceptions for "art" where the copyright does not apply?
    For example as long as your reproduction or inspired work is not made for commercial purposes it is ok to reproduce (e.g.: Wharhol's painting of the Campbell's can).

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    FYI the copyrights on the video games last I believe for 55 years after the prodeuct has been remnoved from the market, or maybe its 55 years after the original creator dies.

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    The reason I started this thread was because I was curious at what I am allowed to do with an idea of mine I am working on that will tackle video games head on. I am not planning to make any money out of this, but it will include games and game references. Any suggestions as to what I can or can't do are welcome.

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    Default Re: Question regarding video game copyrights...

    Quote Originally Posted by Push Upstairs
    I love "Lifeforce" and i wish i could see this picture of the ships.
    ..wouldn't want Konami coming after me.

    Quote Originally Posted by Push Upstairs
    BTW, the 2nd player ship is called "Lord British"?
    Yup, the Vic Viper and the Lord British, there's a REALLY well illustrated and heavily detailed drawing of the Lord British on the back of the Gradius II case, PCEngine CD version.

    I'll be honest in that I later had 10 of Cafepress' "classic thong" printed with the Gradius ships and "Shoot the core" on them, and sold them instantly last February. Hmm.. they didn't have any problem when I ordered them to be printed 1-to-1.

    Quote Originally Posted by goatdan
    Lastly, the reason why a place like CafePress would be very wary of pressing shirts that probably will avoid the copyright issue is twofold -- the first issue is that if anyone gets sued, it won't be you for making the design -- it would be CafePress for selling it. CafePress has a lot more to lose if they get sued than you do for only selling the shirt.
    You know what's REALLY funny? Cafepress has got me three times for "copyrighted images." Now, these aren't on things that I am selling in my cafepress store, they are single prints usually for ME and my personal use. (the two times before this they weren't on anything, the images were just in my media basket as I had made single pints for me) However my last offense took place two weeks ago. I had a local artist do a few drawings based off Blade Runner, and I took two of them and decided to make a t-shirt for my girlfriend from them. Well the order went through, the shirt entered production, and then the FRONT image was flagged. I wrote them saying that they already took funds for the item and that it was produced, and I'm not paying for something I don't have. They wrote me back basically going "oh, well it seems it's already been shipped, if you don't want it simply send it back or refuse delivery." Basically, yeah, violation or not - they just want to complete the sale. What I found odd was they flagged the front image because it had "Blade Runner" in text on it. However the back, which is CLEARLY an illustration of Harrison Ford with a quote from the movie, was no problem at all.

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