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When creating your own model for a weapon, say the M4 carbine, and using the model in your game. Do you need a license to use it commercially? I know that racing games like GT5 has a license for each and every car, but the same apply for weapons?

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A very interesting recent development:… EA is no longer going to be paying for gun licenses. It will be extremely interesting to watching this unfold, especially regarding this question – Jeff May 8 '13 at 13:36
As is the problem with reporting news like that on an answer site like this, that story has been updated. Apparently EA never gave money to gun manufactures. So maybe you could get away with it too ;) – Jeff May 9 '13 at 13:15
@Jeff, is that means using an actual gun model name even if I didn't mentioned or put the company name besides the actual gun name? Is it also considered safe to use the M4 model design in my game with an alternate name? (e.g. .50mm Assault Rifle) – David Dimalanta Jul 5 at 7:18

6 Answers 6

up vote 12 down vote accepted

I am not a lawyer and you should consult one for real, accurate legal advice.

The name and design are likely trademarked (you can see here for example that there have been trademark issues with the M4 in the past; other guns will likely have similar issues).

EDIT: It is possible that as far as a trademark is concerned I may have been misinterpreting things, and it may be okay depending on your circumstances. However, you will still potentially need to worry about other intellectual property restrictions (such as any copyrights held in relation to the item in question) which do apply regardless of whether or not your product is commercially available.

At the end of the day, if you violate somebody's intellectual property laws and they call you on it you can be in a world of hurt so it's best to get real legal advice because the risk is pretty severe. There's a good set of articles on intellectual property issues by a Real Lawyer here.

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I'd have to disagree, mainly because there are many things that are trademarked and appear in various games which you wouldn't think about licensing. The red cross symbol is one such trademark. Trademarks don't protect the object, they only prevent competitors from using the same name and/or description of the object. A good example would be LEGOtm. The company had a patent on the design of the lego brick and a trademark on the LEGO name. There is an "Unofficial LEGO Builder's Guide" which uses the trademark and has many pictures of the bricks in it. – Skizz Mar 24 '11 at 12:19
I'm going to agree with the name part especially. I have no knowledge specifically of the details, but look at how Counter-Strike (a HUGELY successful game) changed all the real gun names into made up names. Valve has very deep pockets, but did not choose to use existing gun names. I think that says something. – Tim Holt Apr 11 '13 at 4:19
Re: Skizz's comment about Red Cross symbol. You might want to do some reading up on this. The Red Cross isn't particularly happy with the use of their symbol in games. See for example. – Tim Holt Apr 11 '13 at 4:33
@TimHolt - I'm not sure if that's the point he was making. Disclaimers: I'm not a lawyer; Consult a real lawyer to be safe and sure. --- By what I understood, trademark and copyright of a physical product don't really apply to strictly visual representations of such items. In other words, making a 3D model of a given gun and using it strictly for visual representation in a game does not categorize as an infringement because you are not copying the product or advertising a different product with the same name. You are just representing it visually within a virtual reality. (Continues...) – TheLima Feb 24 at 16:42
(...) If it wasn't like so, most man-made objects, like clocks, computers, windows, doors, lamps, etc. Would be close enough to a patented, copyrighted and/or trademarked real-life design, and could therefore cause legal trouble. – TheLima Feb 24 at 16:49

If you plan on releasing your game commercially, you will need to seek permission from each firearm's manufacturer for using its name and likeness. This is just from my experience in FPS development. I'm a programmer. Not a lawyer :)

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Also, nothing prevents you from using fake names and then releasing an unofficial 'mod' after the fact that sets the weapon names right. – James Mar 21 '11 at 17:41
@James: I wouldn't assume that that would deal with the copyright issues. You'd really need to talk to a lawyer – Casebash Mar 22 '11 at 3:08
@Casebash: It does. A similar trick has been performed for every release of the STALKER series. As long as it is put out as a 'user mod' and is not distributed / sold by the company that released the game, there is really nothing they can do about it. – James Mar 22 '11 at 15:30
If you're playing CrossFire, the latest and most popular MMO FPS, take the Barrett M82A1 for example. The body and chasis is customized for the Born Beast VVIP variant. See this video: – David Dimalanta Jul 5 at 7:27

It seems that in most cases the name of the weapon is partially changed and sometimes the model, though usually the weapon models are very similar to the actual weapon. tvtropes has several good real world examples of guns in games that have had changes to their names:

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I don't think you do need a license for several reasons, but I'm not a lawyer.

  1. Trademarks are not copyrights or patents. Trademarks are designed to protect consumers. The idea being that a trademarked M4 carbine, for example, is made by Colt Defense (or someone they have licensed to build them) and not by some other company making cheaper versions. The OEM can stop the cheaper company from calling its product an M4 but can't stop it from making the copies. Stopping manfuacturing can only be done through patents. Recently, there has been a dispute between Ford and the Ferari F1 racing team over the name F150. Although the two vehicles could never be confused, this was done primarily to keep hold of the trademark, not enforcing the trademark is one way of losing ownership of the trademark.

  2. There are many other things that appear in video games that have trademarks, are they all licensed? Why should the M4 be special?

  3. Do other media pay licenses to use the trademark. For example, if a James Bond novel had a description of someone hold an M4, would that require a license?

  4. You are not selling a gun. Trademarks can only be enforced against similar products. A game is not a gun, in the same way it's not a drink, shop, car, etc.

  5. In the USA, you can claim the First Amendment (free speech) and fair use.

As for games like GT5, they are probably not licensing the trademark, and probably couldn't license it as they aren't building cars. They are probably licensing the copyright on the names and logos.

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So what if I want to include the FN SCAR or the MG36 with their name clearly stated so the player knows what weapon he uses, do you think that would be okay? – Peter Ølsted Mar 23 '11 at 15:34
As I said, I'm not a lawyer, but the fair use rule would probably cover it. Just don't include and copyrighted elements - logos and suchlike. Remember that there's nothing special about a gun trademark over and above any other trademark (cars, drinks, typewriters, food, etc). Trademarks just stop competitors from selling similar products with the same name/slogan (hence, iPod is a trademark so that MS can't make an mPod/iBob/whatever music player, MS called it Zune). I don't think Ian Fleming was paying license fees for the Walther PPK name. – Skizz Mar 23 '11 at 21:09
I'm disagreeing. If it was that easy, Counter-Strike (Valve's MEGA game) would not have changed the names of all their guns from real names, while retaining the basic 3D model format. – Tim Holt Apr 11 '13 at 4:34

IANAL but names and logos are trademarked. The appearance of a gun is not, unless there is a specific design patent, which is rare. Mechanical patents don't apply here.

So just don't use any actual names or logos. I am not sure about "M4" specifically. It is really a family of weapons and not specific weapon from a specific manufacturer. Definitely do not call it a Colt M4, for example. I saw another comment where you asked about an FN rifle. FN stands for the name of the company Fabrique Nationale, so you also can't use that.

I think you should just make up your own names for the guns, but consult an actual lawyer anyway.

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You mean to say that it is okay to use the gun mod based on real life as long as not using the real name of the gun without permission or just the company name + logo? – David Dimalanta Jul 5 at 7:31

Not a lawyer...

There are multiple fair use elements which serve as a defense in this scenario, in particular 'Purpose and character' in US law. In my interpretation it would be almost impossible to prosecute given the degree to which these defenses stand.

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