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I'm writing a sports management simulation game. Like most sport management games, it makes heavy use of statistics. I would like to use real players, teams and league names.

i) Am I running the risk of getting into legal battles if I should use the real names?
ii) Also what about team colours and emblems etc?

Update Much thanks for all the input!

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i) huge risk, guaranteed. –  Patrick Hughes Mar 20 '12 at 9:59
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possibly insteresting: gamedev.stackexchange.com/questions/23064/… –  Colin Pickard Mar 20 '12 at 13:06
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2 Answers 2

up vote 13 down vote accepted

Neither one is legally acceptable. In short: a person's name and likeness is their own property and they have a right to decide how it's used, and the same goes for a sport team's emblem (but under separate laws).

Using someone's name and likeness without permission

Wikipedia has this to say:

The right of publicity, often called personality rights, is the right of an individual to control the commercial use of his or her name, image, likeness or other unequivocal aspects of one's identity.

Citizen Media Law Project, an American site, confirms that violation of a person's right of publicity would lead to tremendous legal trouble:

In most states, you can be sued for using someone else's name, likeness, or other personal attributes without permission for an exploitative purpose.

[A few sentences later...] There are two distinct legal claims that potentially apply to these kinds of unauthorized uses: (1) invasion of privacy through misappropriation of name or likeness ("misappropriation"); and (2) violation of the right of publicity. (The "right of publicity" is the right of a person to control and make money from the commercial use of his or her identity.)

Emphasis added. There are some exceptional circumstances (which you are almost certainly not covered by) and if you want to go into those I recommend you research the topic further yourself, or consult an actual lawyer.

Usage of a sports emblem without permission

Sports emblems are a trademark of the sporting body and the emblem is their intellectual property, covered by copyright. For instance, the Blazers logo usage page expresses their position on the matter (emphasis added):

We get many requests from Trail Blazers fans for permission to use or reprint the official Trail Blazers logos or other images for their own projects.

While we certainly appreciate the enthusiasm, Trail Blazers images and logos are protected under trademark and copyright laws and unauthorized use is not permitted.

Blazers.com content, including text, photos, graphics, audio and video material can not be published, broadcast, rewritten for broadcast or publication, used or redistributed in any medium without the express written permission of the NBA and the Trail Blazers organization.

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Good answer, though notice how neither the team name nor its colors (as opposite to its emblem) aren't covered here. Of course this doesn't mean they aren't protected by some law, but since I've never seen a game anywhere going any length to fake the team name or colors, I'd safely say it likely is legal to use them. (still need a lawyer anyway, etc.). –  Lohoris Mar 20 '12 at 12:10
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Some colours are actually copyrighted for its use in specific sector. Like the Pink of T-Mobile, for example see: gbatmw.net/showthread.php?tid=7372 . Now ofc this isn't a sports team, but if a company can trademark a colour, then a sports team can do it as well. –  Roy T. Mar 20 '12 at 12:23
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@Lohoris The team's name is probably a trademark - I'm not clear on their colours, however. There might well be fair use involved here. At this point, if Maurice really wants to reference existing teams, he should be consulting a lawyer of his jurisdiction to avoid any potential legal troubles - or consider just using completely fictional teams. –  Jonathan Hobbs Mar 20 '12 at 12:25
    
@RoyT. LMAO. Well, this falls under the more generic case of "corporate assholes might sue you no matter what, and you'll lose no matter what", so you can easily dismiss it (since you can't neither predict it nor defend against it). –  Lohoris Mar 20 '12 at 12:25
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The colour issue is not about copyright but is the concept of "trade dress". Just as trademarks exist to prevent you abusing someone's name to succeed in their industry, trade dress protection exists to stop you abusing a brand's appearance in the same way. –  Kylotan Mar 20 '12 at 13:11
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  • there are plenty of AAA games which are using fake names, so you should have guessed there have to be royalties involved
  • being free and/or open source is usually irrelevant
  • you might be able, according to your legislation, to use something, i.e. player names might be not allowed but, for example, team colors might be (that's just an random example, not real, check with a lawyer!)

The best course of action might be using all-fake, and allow your users to use "customisation packs" which of course you won't provide until you know they are legal (i.e. until your lawyer tells you you can).

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+1 for 'fake it', though I hope that isn't a legal grey area if you can clearly recognise who the person's meant to be. –  Jonathan Hobbs Mar 20 '12 at 12:01
    
@JonathanHobbs: I've seen countless games doing this for years... of course this doesn't mean it is legal, but it means it likely is (or, at least, was). –  Lohoris Mar 20 '12 at 12:07
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