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I am developing a game (or a game engine) that includes a low-poly human-like character model that follows the same proportions as Minecraft's Steve character model. Specifically, the model consists of 6 cuboids for the head, torso, arms, and legs.

I would like to make my character model compatible with the community skins available for Minecraft's Steve by following the same dimensions for the body parts. However, I would not use any copyrighted assets from Minecraft or Mojang Studios, and my character model would have a different default skin. The texture applied to my character model is separate. It is intended to be compatible with the skin format used in Minecraft so that players who have customized their skins in Minecraft can import and use them in my software program.

The exact proportions of the body parts of Minecraft's Steve are the following:

Head: 8 pixels x 8 pixels x 8 pixels Torso: 8 pixels x 12 pixels x 4 pixels Arms: 4 pixels x 12 pixels x 4 pixels (each arm) Legs: 4 pixels x 12 pixels x 4 pixels (each leg) The low-poly aspect is important in 3D graphics as it reduces the number of polygons needed to render a model, making it less computationally intensive, and the proportions in Minecraft's Steve character are intentionally simple to maintain this efficiency.

My software is a game (or game engine) that does not resemble Minecraft at all, I just want to use similar human-like characters. Quite possibly my game and its assets will be published as Open Source software.

My question is: Is it legal for me to use the exact same proportions as Minecraft's Steve character model for my low-poly human-like character model in order to support texture compatibility with community skins, even if I am not using any copyrighted assets from Minecraft, or Mojang Studios? Are the proportions of a low-poly human-like character model, consisting of 6 cuboids for the head, torso, arms, and legs, copyrightable?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Check the following: does reducing normal human proportions to six cuboids and integer round produce the same dimensions? If yes, the scale may be not copyrightable. \$\endgroup\$
    – Joshua
    May 9, 2023 at 1:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ Ethics aside, you can always just release your game without this model and have an unaffiliated modder with no financial incentive create a mod for your game that changes your character model with a Minecrafty model. \$\endgroup\$
    – Flater
    May 9, 2023 at 1:29

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I am not a lawyer, and you should not put too much value into the legal opinions of anonymous strangers from the Internet.

But personally, I would not risk it. While I doubt that Minecraft Steve will pass the "well-delineated character" test and the "story being told" test for copyright of fictional characters, Moyang's lawyers could probably argue that the distinct look of their characters is so well-known that they have a notoriety trademark on it. And personally I would agree. Show me a character in that exact proportions and with that exact texture resolution, and I am going to think "Minecraft". Would they win in court with that argument? Well, do you have the money and the nerves to find out? I wouldn't.

And it is not as if it would be so hard to make a simple humanoid character that does not immediately say "Minecraft". Just bevel the edges and it will look nothing like Minecraft anymore. Yes, it will increase the polygon count. But this is 2023, not 1993. Todays hardware can handle a hundred polygons per character. Yes, even low-budget phones. And if you want mass scenes with so many characters on the screen that it does matter, then you should use impostors.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Part of the OP's question says "I would like to make my character model compatible with the community skins available for Minecraft's Steve." Any changes to OP's model that are big enough to differentiate it from Steve would also be big enough that the community skins would not be compatible. \$\endgroup\$ May 8, 2023 at 21:03
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    \$\begingroup\$ @TheGuywithTheHat - A very valid point. It might be possible to get clever with mapping onto a higher polygon/rounder model (possibly as a one-time-per-skin import), but there would almost certainly be some that just don't work quite right. Being able to say it's compatible with "most" skins, might be sufficient for the OP? \$\endgroup\$
    – Bobson
    May 8, 2023 at 22:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ Philipp, this is a very nice answer, I just wanted to clarify that I was considering using a Minecraft-like model, just because I want to focus more on other aspects of game engine development, I just wanted to have a good enough model quickly. And what is most appealing about the Minecraft model for me, is it being as "low-poly" as it can get, thus minimizing the efforts to animate it. And I am not that worried about performance characteristics. \$\endgroup\$
    – Luke 10X
    May 9, 2023 at 22:13

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