In the past few days I've been browsing 3D asset marketplaces and repositories (I've been doing it for ages, but a lot recently). Many assets are paid for, others are free. In the past few days I've found suspicious activity on these sites, for example something sold on one site and given free on another site. I've recently reported many of these cases to the respective sites. The problem is, that now I look really closely at these models before buying them. I try to compare textures, geometry where I can, and poly count as tools for sniffing out property theft (copyright infringement).

I have bought some real bargains lately, and I know they're the real deal because I have spoken individually with the artists and am 99% I know it's the real deal. However how can I approach a store and have any confidence that what I'm buying isn't some reskinned asset ripped from a commercial game? (These are harder to spot as comparing geometry is harder)? I've tried to stick to reputable and popular sites, but I've already reported a number of people on these for abuse. It's worrying how often sellers aren't discovered by the site's owners or anyone else before I say something. For example there might be multiple thumbs up or 5 star reviews for people buying models that I've found out are actual rip-offs, or have been ripped off by someone else.

How can I know that a model I buy didn't come from some commercial game from 5 or 10 years ago, or from some mod from some point in time? Do I have any protection for example in future I release a commercial game and it's discovered that one of my assets from someone's mod or a commercial game from the past?

A while back I'd bought some products that seemed to be real bargains, and now that I'm a lot more cautious about these issues, I regret buying them.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Did the assets come with a license? (A written document that specifies what you're allowed to do with the asset) \$\endgroup\$ – Peethor Jun 3 '19 at 9:00
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Peethor Yes, most come with a license text. Sometimes it's in the readme. It usually says something along the lines that you have a license to use the assets in a production, in many cases modify them, but you must not make available any part of the content available to anyone else, either by selling or giving away. Also, this means you can't leave image files wandering about openly in your folder structure, because that means that the artwork can be taken by someone else. It must be in a proprietary format so it's not easy to get at, maybe with encryption, but I don't think that's necessary. \$\endgroup\$ – Zebrafish Jun 3 '19 at 9:18
  • \$\begingroup\$ What is clearly needed is some kind of asset recognition tool that basically calculates some kind of fingerprint from an asset and compares it to a database of existing assets and also works if the asset has been altered somewhat. Not that I could do it. \$\endgroup\$ – Trilarion Jun 3 '19 at 10:39
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Trilarion It's interesting you say that, because in the process of identifying many models that are derivatives of others I've thought of such a way this would work, from a technology point of view. In the case of textures it's easier, you can see with your own eyes. Even if it's been a reskin, which will fool the eyes, the UV positions of vertices can be compared. However when it comes to the mesh there are almost unlimited ways to either automatically or very quickly manually adjust the topology of the model so as to make it unidentifiable with the original, even by a human being. \$\endgroup\$ – Zebrafish Jun 3 '19 at 19:49
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Trilarion On the other hand, in many cases people have the nerve to steal and sell others' work with only reskin and adding a couple of features to the mesh, with maybe running it through one or two modifiers. In these simpler cases what you talk about, some technology involving a database, would definitely be possible. \$\endgroup\$ – Zebrafish Jun 3 '19 at 19:52

As always with questions like this, let me start out by saying that I am not a lawyer, and if you want more professional advice, seek out a legal practitioner to help you with your specific issue. Having said that, these are my thoughts on the matter:

Basically, this question boils down to "how can I tell I'm being scammed/lied to?". In online stores, where you can't look a person in the eye and make an educated guess on their ability to produce quality artwork, this is almost impossible. The only way to know something is genuine is by making it yourself. If that's not a possibility, you'll have to trust people. Of course, having an artist make assets for you gives you a lower chance to end up with stolen assets, but you will never know for certain.

Especially if you have a license and proof of purchase, you'll probably (worst case) end up as a victim in a legal battle, as opposed to a perpetrator. But the start of a legal copyright battle is usually a "cease and desist" letter (sent to you by the owner of the asset) which gives you the opportunity to get rid of the asset and replace it with something less harmful.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Thank you, that was helpful. Through some detective work I found that some assets are not legal. Usually the telltale signs are in the textures, as it's easier to discern. However many people reskin the model, so textures won't help. You can sometimes compare the geometry if you can see the wireframe, or count how many sides there are to a wheel, or something like that. You can compare poly count. At the end of the day sometimes none of these things can be distinguishable. And if you have nothing else to compare it to that you suspect, then you've really got nothing to go on. \$\endgroup\$ – Zebrafish Jun 3 '19 at 9:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ At least I know that, as you say, the worst case scenario is initially you are given a removal or take-down notice. \$\endgroup\$ – Zebrafish Jun 3 '19 at 9:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ A takedown notice with bad timing can actually be pretty damaging to your game. It can really hurt when you are currently in the middle of a promotional campaign and then your game gets kicked off the storefront because of a DMCA takedown notice against a single asset. Even if you manage to replace the asset and reupload within a few hours (a very, very optimistic estimate), this might still cost you quite a lot in wasted advertisement budget and damage to your reputation. \$\endgroup\$ – Philipp Jun 3 '19 at 10:26

The only way to be sure is to avoid such stores and hire people instead. Let them sign a contract which states that they vouche for having the copyright for anything they deliver and when it turns out that they don't, they are liable for any damages caused by 3rd party copyright claims.

If you work directly with the artists you can quickly notice when they are posers who try to sell you stolen assets because they are incapable of executing any specific requests you have.

Yes, this is a lot more expensive. But on the upside, you get assets made specifically for your game. This ensures that everything fits together, everything looks exactly the way you want it to look and no player will ever recognize something they've seen somewhere else.

  • \$\begingroup\$ While I agree wholeheartedly that hiring people reduces a lot of risk, an employee can provide you with stolen assets as well, so you'll still not be 100% sure. \$\endgroup\$ – Peethor Jun 3 '19 at 10:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Peethor There is never 100% safety, but having an employee gives you a lot more security. First, you know their real identity and not just a screen name. That makes it possible to pursue legal actions. Second, if you work together with them closely you can quickly notice that they are trying to sell you stolen assets because they are incapable of following your special requests. \$\endgroup\$ – Philipp Jun 3 '19 at 11:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ Even doing it entirely yourself isn't 100% guaranteed; there are plenty of examples in e.g. the music industry where a band will compose a song that just happens to sound like someone else's, leaving them open to a lawsuit. The same must surely apply to other creative fields. \$\endgroup\$ – Maximus Minimus Jun 3 '19 at 13:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ @MaximusMinimus For some reason I've noticed copyright law is applied and enforced much more strictly in cases where the subject of the violation was music. To Philipp, that is some good advice. I feel it's only realistically possible to do such things where you have a considerable budget and resources, not so much for a small group of people, or even a single person doing a project. But I understand what you mean by saying the only way to be absolutely sure is to hire your own artists. \$\endgroup\$ – Zebrafish Jun 3 '19 at 19:38

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