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I've been looking into how to structure an art style guide (ASG); it's a document which helps guide artists how a project's visuals should look. They often have sketches and illustrations from artists working on the project, though I am unsure about using external images.

I am working on a commercial videogame project and I have been writing both a game design document (GDD) and currently an art style guide. Is it legal for me to add artwork I came across while browsing the internet into the ASG? I know that most artists can add external images outside of their project into a section talking about inspirations, but could this be done for areas that loosely talk about, say, an overall aesthetic of something, such as creature or environment design?

For example, say I have a section which talks about the design of fantasy monsters in a chapter about characters. Would it be legally viable to use various images I come across to help show artists what I'm looking for in each creature? I'm guessing that it is legally viable because I don't think I'd be profiting off of an ASG. I hope somebody could verify this for me; I don't want to cause any trouble.

I apologize for making this a bit wordy; I wish I knew how to articulate myself better.

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Legal questions are best asked to legal professionals for the jurisdiction you are working in. Do not rely on anything random strangers on the internet tell you. I am not a lawyer and I can not give you any reliable legal advise.

But personally I would not be afraid of this, because your art style guide is an internal document which should usually not leave your development team. That means there is no distribution of copyrighted material. But you should make your artists aware that you don't own the copyright for these example pictures. That means they should not follow them too closely to avoid plagiarism claims from the original creators. That, in turn, makes them less helpful for your artists.

I would recommend you to use such example pictures just as a rough guide for the general direction you want to go for. Then design the actual look for your project together with your artists by creating original artwork. This process doesn't just create "copyright clean" concept art but also grants your artists more creative input which will be motivating for them.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Thank you for your input. That makes a bit more sense to me; most ASGs are personalised for a project so I had no clue how to structure one or how it works legally. I will be sure to mention that some of the content used has links to the sources they came from, and if I can't recall the original source then I will state that not all content within the document is my own. \$\endgroup\$ – Emerald Eel Entertainment Jul 23 '17 at 16:48

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