2
\$\begingroup\$

I'm currently developing a browser game with a focus on economy, trading and industry. For that I'm building a fictional world with countries and cities. To avoid political drama within the games player interactions, I'd like to avoid using real countries that currently exist/are recognized. I tried to come up with several fictional country names, but I'm reaching the limitations of my creativity where they are still OK-sounding... My questions are now...

  • Can I use fictional countries e.g. from movies/comics etc (e.g. Sokovia from the Marvel universe)? Maybe with slight adjustments?
  • Can I use older country or empire names (e.g. Babylonia)? Maybe also with slight adjustments.
  • Can I use city names from the real world? I need a lot of them, so coming up with thousands brings me to my limit and there may probably be overlaps without me knowing. Based on the following question that should be fine, also since they have nothing to do with the real-life equivalents. Do I need licensing to use real city names in my game?
  • What about using planet or galaxy names which are public domain (or how are they protected, if at all)?

I found some generators in the internet which are helpful to a certain degree, but I'd rather write my own to be honest. Since the game might be monetized, are there any licensing issues involved? I'm pretty new to this from a legal perspective.

Another thing are the fictional company names the users can choose. I guess I can set certain restrictions there to exclude real world companies and provide a "report" button for real companies to request the removal/change to be on the safe side.

Thanks in advance

PS: Since I also needed flags, I already found a nice generator, in case someone is interested: https://www.reddit.com/r/vexillology/comments/4ha19q/flagmaker_20/?st=jb6e4qyk&sh=c1544079

\$\endgroup\$
  • \$\begingroup\$ Monetization is generally irrelevant regarding what you can and can not do in IP law. It just indirectly affects how likely you are to get sued because you can't sue for money from people who don't have any. \$\endgroup\$ – Philipp Dec 14 '17 at 11:40
2
\$\begingroup\$

First of all, I am not a lawyer. This is a laymen interpretation of intellectual property laws. Larger game studios have a legal department for a reason. If you are really serious about your game, you might want to hire an IP lawyer and get some advise before release.


Names are not protected by copyright, because they usually don't fulfill the necessary threshold of creativity. But they can be protected by Trademarks, which is an entirely different beast. So before you use a name, check if it is trademarked for use in games. Larger media companies tend to register a trademark on every name they come up with in case it ever gets marketable. You can look up trademarks registered in the United States on the website of the US Patent and Trademark Office.

Any historic names not recently trademarked are fair game. Copyright expiration rules vary around the world, but usually it's the death of the author plus ~70 years. So when you take a name from mythology you are pretty safe. And most names from astronomy are taken from mythology, by the way. Andromeda, Pollux, Cassiopeia, Ganymede... all people from Greek legends.

Just make sure you don't loan too much from recent fiction when you design the country itself, or you might run into a copyright lawsuit regarding the content. For example, if you have a country named Sparta inspired by classical Greek culture, that's fair game, because the historic Sparta was thousands of years ago (yes, the city still exists today, but I guess they got used to being overshadowed by their own history). But when everyone there talks in quotes from the movie 300, then Warner Bros. legal department might get interested in you. (remember: in civil lawsuits, it's not just about being right but about having the money to prove it).

\$\endgroup\$
0
\$\begingroup\$

I am not a lawyer. This can't be considered proper legal advice. You may want to contact a lawyer.

Using names from comics is definitely illegal. There's an exception though. If the comic is old enough to reach public domain, then it's possible to use those names without legal issues. However, since Marvel is only 78 years old and public domain is a bit messy since Disney tried to keep Mickey Mouse from "expiring", it's safe to say that none of the places are in it.

Even if old country names were "licensed", for the same reason I stated above (domains becoming public domain after X years) would mean you're allowed to use them.

Public domain is pretty self explanatory. If something's in public domain, you can use (and usually abuse) it. Since galaxy names are in public domain, you can use them legally.

\$\endgroup\$
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks, what about slightly different names, e.g. Osteros instead of Westeros (from Game of Thrones)? The similarity is obvious, but where would you draw the line here? \$\endgroup\$ – vm370 Dec 14 '17 at 12:12
  • \$\begingroup\$ @vm370 That depends on the jury. If they have the money (and HBO definitely does), then they might win that argument. \$\endgroup\$ – Bálint Dec 14 '17 at 12:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ Got it. I'd like to upvote, but it seems I'm not allowed to yet. I hope I'll remember it in the future. \$\endgroup\$ – vm370 Dec 14 '17 at 14:44

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.