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When and how can I use the likeness of real people in my game? What are the legal restrictions involved?

Real people are rarely found in games because it's hard to present them tastefully, but they have sometimes appeared when the setting was suitable. Games have featured the likenesses of historical figures such as McNamara, Hitler, Kim Jong Il to take a few examples.

What factors affect how I can use these real people? Whether they are living? Whether the depiction is entirely factual? Do any disclaimers need to be used? Does it differ significantly across jurisdictions?

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    \$\begingroup\$ This isn't a game development question. This is a legal question, and should be addressed to someone who is qualified to practice law in your jurisdiction. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 4 '14 at 23:46
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Depends largely on local laws and don't rely on the Internet for legal advice but here are some guidelines: Basically you can't unless they fit the following conditions:

  1. They are historical figures, basically anyone who has been dead for a long time (80 years+)). You can basically do with these people as you please
  2. Anyone who serves an important public function, games are a form of media and are therefor allowed to report and display people with public functions (politicians and related). Note that this is more limited as this has to remain fact based.
  3. Parody is protected speech: you are allowed to make a parody of any person who you can reasonably make a parody of, this is however usually limited to somewhat famous people as otherwise it's very difficult to get a parody (this is always very difficult to get right).

  4. Anyone who has given you permission (obvious)

  5. anyone who (and whose family) is unable to sue you for whatever reason (for example if they would get arrested if they got into your country or you know they won't be able to sue for any other reason). Note that that technically doesn't make it legal but you can't be punished for it. In these cases make your own ethical decision.

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    \$\begingroup\$ The last point seems odd. Are you suggesting putting real people in your game if they can't sue you? \$\endgroup\$
    – ashes999
    Jul 4 '14 at 15:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ African war lords for example can't sue you without getting arrested themselves so you can display them. \$\endgroup\$
    – Thijser
    Jul 4 '14 at 18:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ Doesn't have to be unethical, is putting say Koni (from Koni 2012) unethical? And if it's legal it doesn't have to be ethical either. \$\endgroup\$
    – Thijser
    Jul 4 '14 at 19:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ -1 for doing something that may be illegal just because you can get away with it. \$\endgroup\$
    – ashes999
    Jul 4 '14 at 19:34
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    \$\begingroup\$ -1 for providing "it's okay if you follow these guidelines" legal advice without citing your qualifications for providing that advice. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 4 '14 at 23:49
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For anybody that is alive you need explicit permission from the person even if you are going to mock them, there's no way around it, I know shows like south park do a lot of these things and is able to get away with it, but it's just because most "victims" ignore it to avoid the Streisand effect (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Streisand_effect).

People might even sue you because you are making money off their image and they are not being compensated, so always ask permission from the alive ones.

For the dead ones, you can be sued if a close relative feel offended by your material, it has happened something like this in Brazil when relatives of our founding fathers were displeased with how they were portrayed in a soap opera, keep in mind that most of the subjects were dead for a long time.

And remember, there's a fine line between freedom of speech and trying to humiliate a person, so, you should seek advice from a lawyer where he will be able to analyze your content.

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