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I'm currently building a game whose NPC's are going to be assigned a random gender and a random name for the right gender. To do this I will be using a "database" of names (actually a text file with tuples). There would also be a list of last names, which will be added to the first name also randomly.

My question is the following. Suppose one such random name is "George Bush", and this person has been randomly assigned the job of president. As you can see, this could easily be seen as having been "copied" from a real-life person.

The main issue is this. Names will be randomly-generated, yes, but the seed for random-number generation will be constant. In other words, the name of an NPC would be randomly-generated, i.e. I wouldn't choose it, but it would be the same for every player. Could this get me in trouble? We cannot verify all possible names, since the generated number of NPC's could be potentially limitless (new NPC's are being created whenever needed).

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The answer to any "Can I run into legal issues with..." question is Yes - because people can choose to take you to court for whatever reason they like. So you need to think about how to reduce the chance of this happening, which the answers below help with. –  Kylotan Jun 5 '12 at 17:30
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4 Answers

up vote 22 down vote accepted

Legally I would be prepared for "change this name" notices and make it very easy to change that name; no matter how much in the right you think you are, it's just a nice thing to do.

Create and maintain a dictionary of names to avoid, no matter how legal it is anyone who sees "George Bush" in your game will immediately lose their sense of immersion.

Combined with a standard fictitious name disclaimer to cover obscure names you should be good to go.

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Wow, this is exactly the kind of thing I was looking for. I'll add a list of names to avoid using. Thanks!! –  Nathan Sabruka Jun 5 '12 at 15:17
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Besides the possibility of legal notices, you may want to be able to exclude randomly generated names that turn out to be... 'unfortunate'... regardless. –  Clockwork-Muse Jun 5 '12 at 18:02
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Dictionary of names? Good luck keeping that up to date. And who gets to decide what name is "famous enough" to be on the ban list? Can any individual contact you and say, "See here, my name is 'John Smith' and I don't want my name in your game!" –  Tim Holt Jun 5 '12 at 18:48
    
Indeed it does cause an issue of keeping the list up-to-date. Now you need to ensure that you have the client check for updates, else why the list? However, I do think this is a good idea to have in place so if anything does come up, you can show that you at least tried. –  Byte56 Jun 5 '12 at 20:14
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Quick important note: maintaining a list of names to exclude potentially opens you up to legal liability for not including particular names in that list. In a lot of situations, you're legally safer if you don't self-censor randomly generated content at all than if you try to censor and miss things. As always, check with a lawyer in your jurisdiction for the most relevant applicable legal advice in your specific situation. –  Trevor Powell Jun 6 '12 at 0:18
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Add a disclaimer:

"All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental."

Use the above to cover yourself. And I'll use the below to cover myself.

I'm not a lawyer and your legal decisions and consequences are your own.

Of course, since neither of us are lawyers, the amount of covering going on anywhere in there is questionable. So if you want a true answer, seek professional legal advice.

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I'm not entirely sure I understand your personal disclaimer... could you elaborate please? –  Nathan Sabruka Jun 5 '12 at 15:05
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He means: this is a legal question, and whilst he's answering you should use a disclaimer about resemblances, he is not a lawyer and your legal decisions and their consequences are your own. –  Jonathan Hobbs Jun 5 '12 at 15:06
    
Thanks for the clarification! –  Nathan Sabruka Jun 5 '12 at 15:08
    
You're welcome :) –  Jonathan Hobbs Jun 5 '12 at 15:11
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Thanks Jonathan, sometimes the words just fall out of my mouth into alphabet soup on the keyboard. Indeed, the first disclaimer is for your use, and the second is to cover me :) –  Byte56 Jun 5 '12 at 15:23
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You've already chosen an answer, but I think you're making this more complex than you need to.

A lot of people have the same names as famous people, whether by choice or accident. You don't see the estates of famous people demanding average people change their names to avoid confusion, and there's no reason you should worry about it unless you are explicitly trying to imply that your NPC "Goerge Bush" is somehow supposed to be the real one. And even then, even if it was satire, you can still use the real name.

Seriously, just a simple disclaimer like was posted in another answer and you're fine.

"All characters appearing in this work are fictitious and randomly generated. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental."

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I appreciate your input, especially since I've already chosen an answer :) –  Nathan Sabruka Jun 5 '12 at 19:25
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+1 because it contains my answer :) –  Byte56 Jun 5 '12 at 20:15
    
Back at you ;) er and I meant "another answer" (edited) –  Tim Holt Jun 7 '12 at 21:29
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As long as you can prove your code (in case of legal action, your code will be used as evidence) is generating those names randomly there will be no problem because depending on the amount of data (names, last names, jobs) it is just a matter of statistics to find the probable chance of having those combinations be the same as a real person.

As Byte56 stated, adding a disclaimer will also prove really helpful. Adding the fact that you are generating the NPCs data randomly to that disclaimer will also be great!

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