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Before tagging this as a duplicate to Legality of using names in a game?, please be aware that it is a more special case than that generic question

So I am working on a card game similar to Cards Against Humanity, where some cards would have celebrities names, the case I am interested in is if the celebrity name is too generic that they can't really claim that this name can only be them, specially there is no context where their field of famous is referred to to confirm the identity.

Example

Lady Gaga - no one can argue that this name doesn't refer to the known celebrity.

But

Will Smith - is too generic, searching linkedin or facebook you will find thousands of people called Will Smith.

I guess if the card says the actor Will Smith then that is different.

Am I wrong in this assumption?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Your point is correct. Also, put in you mind that we have really crazy celebrities in this world. \$\endgroup\$ – Omer Feb 23 at 21:28
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Remember that the law is not interpreted by an inflexible computer program or robot, but by human lawyers and judges. Reasoning, intelligent people who are entirely capable of calling you on it if you try to fool them.

In this case, if your game was as engaging to play using names of nobodies, you wouldn't even need to ask this question. You could just use completely generic names with not even a coincidental link to famous people.

The reason you want to use recognizable names like "Will Smith" is that you're counting on name recognition — you can reasonably expect players will interpret this to mean the Will Smith, the famous actor, not one of the randos you found on LinkedIn. Associating this known person, and things players think & know about them, with the cards and events in your game, is a source of amusement that helps make your game more entertaining.

This is obvious to you, it's obvious to us, and it will be obvious to Will Smith's agent and legal representation. If they decide they don't approve of your use of his identity and brand and decide to take you to court, it will also be obvious to the judge presiding over the case that you're drawing benefit from unauthorized use of this famous person's identity.

In some jurisdictions you might be able to claim "fair use" or "parody," but it's important to note that this is a defense you could try to use in court, not a way to prevent being sued in the first place. You could still lose, or pay a substantial amount of time and money arguing your case even if you win.

So, the safest bet is to seek permission when you want to use anything that belongs to someone else — including their name.

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Some names are too generic or common but even then, if the card has he's face on it or something like that you can get into trouble. Also if your game doesn't become famous and stuff, you will hardly get any problems. It's basically a matter of common sense, although some rights knowledge can keep you safe

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  • \$\begingroup\$ The card won't have any pictures \$\endgroup\$ – Mocas Feb 23 at 22:34

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