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I have been wanting to create a mobile game based on some of my favorite anime.

I want to know if using character images and names from those anime (even after giving full copyright credits and disclaimer) infringes any copyrights?

Would this come under "fair use" in the DMCA (I mean there are already so many not-so-legal sites using this "fair use" to continue running).

What are the possible things I can do for making this game? I have seen many online browser games based on anime which use images and elements from that anime, while I have also seen many games advertise themselves based on a anime but just use diffrent names for characters of that anime (sometimes modifying the character images, too).

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  • \$\begingroup\$ It's probably not a good idea. Maybe nothing will happen, but if they decide to take legal action, they definitely have grounds for it. Using their character images, names, etc. is all copyright infringement. \$\endgroup\$ – ashes999 Nov 18 '13 at 1:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ Read wikipedia entries on Copyright, Trademark and Licensing. Not only will you get a handle on how IP laws work, but you'll learn how they can be used to protect your own ideas in the future. \$\endgroup\$ – Patrick Hughes Nov 18 '13 at 4:48
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I am not a lawyer; the following is not legal advice. If you really want to proceed with this direction of development you should consult an actual lawyer familiar with copyright law.

Since long I have wanted to create a mobile game based on some of my favorite anime. I wanted to know do using character images and names from those anime (even after giving full copyright credits and disclaimer) infringes any copyrights ?

Copyright and intellectual property law varies from country-to-country. You're talking about anime, which means the source IP probably falls under Japanese copyright law.

I am even less familiar with Japanese law than US law, but in the US, it is not sufficient to "give credit" to avoid infringing copyright -- you need to obtain the permission of the copyright holder. Even though you may see others disclaiming that "no infringement was intended," that is not a firm ward against litigation.

It's possible that some things you want to use (such as the names of characters) do not fall under IP protection rights (or would be permissible under fair use), but others (such as character designs or images, or the proper name of the anime itself) may be subject to copyright, trademark or other equivalent IP protection. You'll really want a lawyer to help you untangle that mess.

Either find yourself a lawyer, or choose a different tack for your development plans that do not involve the potential legal ramifications of IP infringement.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Plan B, have sent the top 3 anime publishers and license holders which I want to use in game expressed my plans and interest to seek their permission. One way would have been to not allow the app in US where the copyright laws are more tight but dont want in anyway to do so. Thanks for your reply \$\endgroup\$ – user39111 Nov 18 '13 at 1:43
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    \$\begingroup\$ "You're talking about anime, which means the source IP probably falls under Japanese copyright law." Be careful. If the anime is distributed in the US then there is generally a large media conglomerate here that has the rights and responsibilities of distribution and following up on copyright infringement issues (and the same is often true in Europe). Also, the Japanese laws are not much different than US laws -- as with most developed countries -- thanks to various treaties and such. \$\endgroup\$ – Sean Middleditch Nov 18 '13 at 3:29
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    \$\begingroup\$ @user39111: "[I] have sent the top 3 anime publishers and license holders which I want to use in game expressed my plans and interest to seek their permission" Yeah, that likely won't work out well as you said. They have every reason not to grant that permission explicitly even if they'd be okay with an unofficial use of their license. If they legally grant permission then they're backed into a corner even if your game is somehow damaging to their IP down the line. \$\endgroup\$ – Sean Middleditch Nov 18 '13 at 3:34
  • \$\begingroup\$ I'd like to add that it's not been unheard of japanese anime studios to sue FANSUBBERS (i.e: people who distribute subtitle files.) If they don't even like free, fansubbed translations of their works; they're probably not going to like your title. :) \$\endgroup\$ – Vaughan Hilts Nov 18 '13 at 6:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ Please avoid having extended (especially tangential) discussion in comments, folks. Use the Game Development Chat. \$\endgroup\$ – Josh Nov 18 '13 at 15:46
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If you don't know if its a copyright issue, then always assume that it will be.

This is the best/safest way to think, at least until you find out for sure :)

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With todays civil law it is not about being right, it is about being right and having the cash to prove it in court. When you have a zero-budget fan project and you want it to stay zero-budget, you won't be able to pay a lawyer and defend it in court, even when you assume that you have a good chance to win eventually (maybe you have, maybe you don't - ask a lawyer).

That means the best protection from a lawsuit is not giving anyone a reason to start one in the first place.

What reason would the IP holder have to sue you?

  • They might feel that your game affects their brand value negatively.
  • They are afraid that your game might compete with a game they make or plan to make in the future. Imagine they spend millions (of yen) to create and promote an own game based on their IP, and people who search for it in the app-store find your game first and play that one instead?
  • They do it just because they can and see an opportunity to squeeze some money out of you (copyright-trolling)

Bottom line: Don't make fangames. Better develop your own IP and avoid the legal trouble. When your motivation for the project is that you are a big fan of IntellectualPropertyX and want to capture its look and feel in game form, you should think about why you like it, isolate these aspects, and use these aspects as an inspiration for your own intellectual property.

A good example for a fan-game which isn't a fan-game is Freedom Planet. It looks like Sonic the Hedgehog, it plays like Sonic the Hedgehog, but otherwise it has no connection at all to Sega's intellectual property. The result is an all new intellectual property which stands on its own and has the potential to turn into a franchise itself.

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