I just had a quick question and wanted everyone's opinions.

I'm making a 2D demo game for a resume which I want to post online. I'm applying as a programmer position so I don't really have my own art. I am planning on using sprite sheets and tile sets from other games in order to create just one or two levels on my demo. I will give credit at the bottom of the screen and state that these sprites are not my own.

Is this a good idea or could this be potentially "dangerous" in the illegal sense?

  • 4
    \$\begingroup\$ "Dangerous Dave in Copyright Infringement", the demo for what would later become Commander Keen. Totes illegal, but the lampshading makes it worth it. -> rome.ro/games_ddici.php \$\endgroup\$
    – Kawa
    Commented Jan 29, 2012 at 22:08

7 Answers 7


I am not a lawyer, the following is not legal advice. If you would like legal advice you should consult a real lawyer. My anecdotes regarding the law are biased entirely towards that of the United States.

No, you should not use copyrighted sprites (or any other asset) in your demo. It is a bad idea.

  • Copyright gives the author of a work (in this case, sprites) the exclusive rights to the use/reproduction/retransmission of the work. To legally use the work, you must have the permission of the copyright holder. Crediting them unsolicitedly or disclaiming that the work is "used without permission" or that copyright infringement is untended is a moot point, because you are infringing regardless. Just because you (or anyone else you may find and point to as an example) hasn't been caught doesn't mean it isn't illegal.

  • Realistically, the odds are against you being sued. The odds are against your infringement even being noticed. You're much more likely just to get a cease-and-desist request than an outright lawsuit. That doesn't make it morally or legally correct, though, and since this is a demo for a career opportunity you should not be building it on such a risky platform.

  • Furthermore, this is a demo for a career in an industry that, like it or not, relies in some ways on copyright and IP law. Many people who operate in that industry (myself, for example) have very healthy respect for those laws even if they don't necessarily agree they are perfect. What impression do you think you'd be sending to a potential employer by using somebody else's hard work without their permission? You can't know a priori if the people who will review your demo are the kind who will care or not. The kind who will care -- like myself -- will likely look upon your demo far less favorably.

  • Finally, it just looks kind of lazy.

You don't need good art to make a good demo, necessarily. Programmers can look beyond the programmer art of other engineers, but far fewer of them can or are willing to look beyond IP violations.

A friend of mine is an IP and entertainment industry lawyer in Seattle; she's written a number of articles on intellectual property issues you mind find interesting.


The legal perspective:

No, you cannot legally redistribute someone else's copyrighted work.

This is international law. It is not debatable. It is not made okay by giving credit. It does not become okay by giving it away for free. By copying someone else's copyrighted work, you are violating their copyright -- literally, their exclusive right to make copies. (Yes, there are some circumstances in which you can defend the practice via the doctrine of Fair Use, but this does not cover your situation.)

You cannot legally redistribute someone else's copyrighted work.


An employer's perspective:

Speaking as someone who is occasionally involved in hiring programmers in the games industry, I would never consider hiring someone who submitted a demo containing illegally copied materials. Hell, if the graphics weren't yours, I'd start wondering whether the code was really yours, and whether you didn't just find some code somewhere and re-purpose it.

Hiring a programmer who behaves in this manner would be a massive risk for the company. Imagine the scandal for the company if you did such a thing while working for us, and we didn't notice but you got caught by the media. No, I will not take the chance of hiring someone who has a known history of acting in this way. The risks are too high for me, as a potential employer.


Potentially dangerous in the illegal sense. Not likely dangerous. But potentially so, and unnecessarily so, considering how many free sprites are out there. Seriously, dig around on Google, you'll find tons.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ I'd stress the unnecessarily. There are tons of free sources, it's completely pointless to use some non-free ones. Which also could be considered lazyness. \$\endgroup\$
    – o0'.
    Commented Jan 28, 2012 at 11:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ To start him off, here is a great example of a free library of sprites/tiles:widgetworx.com/widgetworx/portfolio/spritelib.html \$\endgroup\$
    – dan369
    Commented Jan 28, 2012 at 17:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks. Been using this one for the last few hours now. Excellent find! \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 29, 2012 at 14:03

[Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer and this is not legal advice.]

Generally speaking...

No. You should not — even if you give credit.


  • You write and ask for permission and are given permission in writing, or
  • The copyrighted works are provided under a license granting you permission to use them in your own works.

The latter is an important distinction: Just because something is copyrighted doesn't automatically mean that you can't use it. Many creative works are provided under a permissive license and are copyrighted. Most likely, the sprites you're referring to aren't released under a license, else you wouldn't be asking. So in your case, I'd definitely write and ask.


If your demo is just a mock-up that you're going to be showing to people privately — and not publishing on the web — then you don't need permission since you're not publishing the demo. That said, you should still give credit and let viewers know that the sprites are placeholders created by someone else.


I would check the copyright on images, there are companies/artists that doens't like to "share" there sprites, or are constricted to one site or certain goals.

On the other hand there are artists that allows you to use their sprites in any way you want aslong you credit them.

I would advice you to read the policy of the user/company before using their "images". The chance is small that they really going to sue you, but it can. (Think about megaupload)

  • \$\begingroup\$ Even if you were to give them credit. Like a "all artwork belongs to Nintendo" sort of thing? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 28, 2012 at 11:05
  • \$\begingroup\$ yes you can give credit like that , I mostly add what image I got from what place or the name of the artist. But it is good to read the policy first because I think that some companies states (I think Rovio does ((Angry Birds)) that all programs using things from their company belongs to them so if you make a game with their resources it can be that you lose all rights on it. \$\endgroup\$
    – Ruben
    Commented Jan 28, 2012 at 11:21

Other people had answered about some threats related to using 3rd-party stuff. It´s bad from a legal point of view and also is inadequate about how you are presenting your work. Although that is true that there are lots of images with sharing licenses that you can find at the web if you look, if you want to offer an unique experience to your public, you always can draw your own sprite images, then scan or photo it, and with very basic editing commands at Gimp or Photoshop, you can mount them together. I believe that doing this or asking someone to do something similar, can add some value to the impression about how much you care about the demo you are presenting.

  • \$\begingroup\$ This, unfortunately, doesn't exactly answer the actual question. \$\endgroup\$
    – user1430
    Commented Feb 2, 2012 at 16:17

Lost Garden have many good sprites, very handy to prototypes and demos.


  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ This doesn't really answer the question at hand. \$\endgroup\$
    – Tetrad
    Commented Feb 1, 2012 at 1:05

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