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This is something that I worried about for a long time. While making games, it is hard to tell for sure if any of the resources are copyrighted unless a person is clearly aware that they are to a like to an image that have known in certain work done. I wanted to make a 2d mmo that in certain ways might be similar to Pokemon. I did not want to make an illegal game, but it is just that there are certain elements that I want in the game which are similar to Pokemon. I also wanted to possibly sell features of it if the project succeeds and works out all well. What exactly are some ways that I can find out for sure if images that I am using are illegal to use or not.

Edit: The element which I am worried about in the game which I was planning to make was about creature battling and summoning. Thankfully game concepts cannot be copyrighted, but I did not want to take or use images that were exactly like those in Pokemon and I wanted to make a game that is very different in many ways. I might have wanted to use creatures in a similar cartoon fashon that is used in Pokemon. This has been somewhat of a concern to me though as about the legal issues possibly.

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The best way to ensure that the assets you're using are legal to use, is to make them yourself. Otherwise see this: How closely can a game resemble another game without legal problems –  Byte56 Aug 6 '12 at 23:55
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In addition: resources are always copyrighted, unless the owner has explicitly revoked copyright (which virtually never happens) or unless they've 'expired' into public domain (which is almost guaranteed not to be so for the sorts of assets you're talking about). Whether an image infringes on another company's trademarks is a wholly different question; don't confuse copyright and trademark! What you should be asking is more whether the license terms on the assets allow you to use them for your purposes; generically good advice is to assume they don't unless you explicitly see otherwise. –  Steven Stadnicki Aug 6 '12 at 23:58

3 Answers 3

Every "work" is protected unless otherwise specified. Any kind of resources are a work, so are the designs themselves (so you can't make a creature of yours look like Pikachu for example). The code is a work, too, but you won't be able to look into the code of almost any game anyway.

With trademarks you wont have a problem unless you use the names/places/worlds of something else.

So... don't use any art, any (visual) designs, any names and any other kind of resource (music, maps, sound effects, [...]) from someone else's games and you are fine.

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This is totally an emotional and not a legal answer, but any time you're thinking of using something, ask yourself this: If you had created the original and someone else was about to do something with it that you're contemplating, would it be OK with you?

If yes, then well maybe it's OK.

If no, then ask yourself why it would bother you, and if this isn't something you should consider in your own decisions.

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I've never seen this approach to the topic suggested before, and I like it a lot (though it won't work for everyone, for various reasons). Nice! –  Steven Stadnicki Aug 7 '12 at 5:08
    
If that really worked, there wouldn't be that much illegal downloads of movies / music / games / ... :( –  Alayric Aug 7 '12 at 20:30

As long as you don't use any pokemons name or poke-something, or any graphics like pokeballs. You should be fine. Happy coding!

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This is not only wrong advice but dangerously wrong advice - there are many ways the questioner's game can be illegal other than borrowed terms and the question itself suggests that they're almost wholly unaware of many of the key concepts of IP law (in particular, even basics like the difference between copyright and trademark); this is a very easy way to find yourself in real hot water if your project ever gets large enough to actually attract attention. (See, for instance, the recent flap around Armed Heroes and their asset theft from Torchlight) –  Steven Stadnicki Aug 7 '12 at 0:09

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