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I want to make game more realistic, for that I need a city. So, I decided to take New York City, as it can be seen through Google Maps with Street View, 3d view and much more and will help me a lot to make realistic game.

So, my simple question is: Can I use the whole New York City in my game and publish it commercially?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Something I left out of my answer because it was not totally about the issue you're asking about: If you put the whole City of New York in your game, you'll have a lot of data for the details. You have to consider that you have 1) the human resources to put that in the game (artists for the content, engineers for the organization of the storage and dynamic loading of the data, level designers for exploiting the data) 2) the time to do it. And how much will it really add to your game? If you're an small indie dev, I would suggest you narrow down the scope of your project :) \$\endgroup\$ – Vaillancourt Dec 20 '15 at 16:09
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I am not a lawyer, and this is not a legal advice site. To get a final opinion, hire a lawyer.

There are 2 aspects in your question:

  • Can I use the City of New York without doing copyright infringement?
  • Can I use Google Street View and related to build the city?

The City of New York

The name of geographic locations cannot be trademarked, so the name of the city, the streets, the various plazas, etc. can be used. (This would really be hard for media creators to create content if every one had to go through a process to get the authorization to use a city name, wouldn't it!)

However, even if the name of the city is not copyrighted, the way you use it can be. For instance, stuff like "I [heart] NY", New York City logos and such are most likely copyrighted and you should inspect each of these items with a lawyer before knowing what if it is copyrighted or not.

[...] generally speaking no city would have a right to a trademark in their own to mark their city as a good or service. That said, the city of New York likely has trademarks, for example, in a certain logo or design of the name to mark certain goods, such as brochures, advertising, etc. etc. [...] Source

Another important point about the use of New York City: what's in it. If you know there is a restaurant named "McDonald's" at the corner of street XX and street YY, to be able to put that restaurant name and logo in your game, you will need the authorization from the restaurant. This will be a huge task for a whole city.

About the usage of Google supplied data

The Terms of Services are quite clear (bold characters are from me to highlight the important points in this case):

2 . Restrictions on Use. Unless you have received prior written authorization from Google (or, as applicable, from the provider of particular Content), you must not: (a) copy, translate, modify, or make derivative works of the Content or any part thereof; (b) redistribute, sublicense, rent, publish, sell, assign, lease, market, transfer, or otherwise make the Products or Content available to third parties; (c) reverse engineer, decompile or otherwise attempt to extract the source code of the Service or any part thereof, unless this is expressly permitted or required by applicable law;

So you can't just use what's provided by Google. You can use it as a reference for building you city by your artists, but you can't just download the data, transform it, and put it in your game. Unless you get a specific authorization from them.

tl;dr

Without a specific authorization:

  • City of New York: yes; but only the names of geographic locations (city, streets, public places, etc.).
  • Commercial entities with their logos: no.
  • Google data: no.
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    \$\begingroup\$ One other factor in this is that, if you're working with a publisher or distribution platform, they may have their own policies about including identifiable real-world locations/people/brands in games. So even if it's legally permissible, they may still consider it to be off-limits (they may be averse to the risk of having real-world entities come after them for defamation if they perceive the game's portrayal as negative or inaccurate) \$\endgroup\$ – DMGregory Dec 20 '15 at 16:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ @DMGregory that's a very good point indeed! \$\endgroup\$ – Vaillancourt Dec 20 '15 at 16:12
  • \$\begingroup\$ I remember reading it in a certification doc once, but I can't recall whether it was platform-wide, or a regional restriction (kind of like gore in games released in Germany). I have an inkling it was specific to Japan, but I don't have a source I can cite. \$\endgroup\$ – DMGregory Dec 20 '15 at 16:21
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Well I'm not an expert in this copyrights stuff but I think you can because there are many games that use New York city as the map with minor variations. So maybe you can.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I don't see this answer as being very helpful. "Maybe" doesn't really clarify anything. \$\endgroup\$ – Christer Dec 20 '15 at 13:51
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    \$\begingroup\$ Further, you don't know what other games had to go through to use the city. Lots of games use real guns, too, but that doesn't mean you can do it to (you have to work out license agreements). "Some other game did it" is not a great basis. \$\endgroup\$ – user1430 Dec 20 '15 at 16:46

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