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I'm making my first game (2D), and while details are irrelevant it compromises lots of spaceships in and out of the screen. They are not the main character or controllable by any means (I don't know if it makes any difference).

For the sake of variety and fun, I decided to re-create some iconic spaceships of various known series. They would compromise a small portion of the overall, less than one percent. Their addition would go in the lines of 'easter eggs' or rare sights, just to warm the fans hearts with lovely memories and enrage the ultrafans brains with conflicting date frames and galaxies far far away mixing with milky way lore.

I will implement them on the developer version of the videogame, as I assume private use is as free as air (I really make the game I'd like to play, and hell if I won't be the one that has most fun). I could implement them as an option for the public version if I was sure it was completely safe.

But considering the scenario in which I finish the game and want to fully release it. This are some of the assets, as example: they are external designs, but I painted them pixel by pixel and generally have some little discrepancies with the canon, besides having one dimension less than they have in most of the original commercial products.

random examples

My question is: Under what conditions can I publish them? I would'nt claim them as original or own designs, but I am the maker(and thus, the owner) of the art asset nontheless. The fact that they are so low resolution could allow me to use them as parody work? What if I don't want to make any money of it, and just publish the game without charge?

The simple truth is that I don't really want any problem with anybody. Nor I consider this to end up beeing of any help to my economy. But it would be nice to know if I can distribute it, and what options does it have of helping prevent starvation of one guy. Like, putting a donations button in the same web I use to distribute it, while clearly stating that the development of the game is unrelated to the donations it recives (web without ads, I know that would be considered commercial).

Thank you for your time. (Non-native speaker, feel free to cry blood)

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  • \$\begingroup\$ If a fan can recognize them then the IP owner will as well and sue you for everything you own. \$\endgroup\$ – ratchet freak Jan 20 '15 at 10:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ As a developer, I love when open art people wish to distribute their craft. And I don't doubt that you made these, but the IP risk of using these is too big for any game developer worth his salt to take. (Not to say that using other peoples IPs when drawing isn't good for practice, because it is.) \$\endgroup\$ – Nils Munch Jan 20 '15 at 10:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ So it's a big No-No even for absolutely free games? Good to know. I'll keep them for myself, then. I have hundreds of own ships, already, so it's not a big deal. It was intended to just salt it a little, guess I'll have to contact other artists if I want to feature a myriad of styles and not just mine. Thanx for the comments. I'll wait to a proper answer to come up, anyways. \$\endgroup\$ – Oxy Jan 20 '15 at 11:27
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When you don't want any problems with anybody, don't copy other peoples intellectual properties.

Even when you assume you are technically in the right (fair use, notable differences and all), they might still sue. In most parts of the world, civil lawsuits aren't like criminal lawsuits. You won't get an attorney for free and defending yourself as a non-lawyer is practically impossible because civil lawsuits are a minefield of legalese a layman can not possibly survive in. When you want a chance to win such a case, you will have to hire a lawyer, and that lawyer will want money in advance. Such a process can be very lengthy and costly, and when you run out of money you will have no choice but to agree to a settlement, no matter how sure you are that a judge would rule in your favor.

When your game is free, they might decide that you aren't worth their effort (there is no point in paying lawyers to get a settlement with someone who can't pay it anyway), but you can't bet on it. They might just want to get rid of you for strategical reasons or because they fear dilution of their brand.

As a private person there is just no way to win a copyright lawsuit against a big corporation, so better don't risk doing anything which might have the slightest chance to piss one off. Better develop your own intellectual property. It's more fun anyway.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I just assumed I ignore what is safe to render and what not. Its making was more on the lines of "why not?" or "The fans will get wet" than the "I don't know what to put here, so let's be lazy and take other's work". I do really not want any kind of problems, and would have published it only if all your answers were exactly the opposite of what they are. (and after talking to some lawyer, then). Now I know I have not to bother asking a professional. I won't get a buck with it or without, so I just want to make sure I don't actively lose them. \$\endgroup\$ – Oxy Jan 20 '15 at 12:12
  • \$\begingroup\$ Totally true story. Big companies frequently sue small guys to clear out any possible competition even before there is a competition. Internet allows small guys to be popular in very short times and big guys don't want to take the risk. And, international lawsuits are very expensive. Most cases end up with altering or removing the game otherwise they will run out of money until they clear their rights. \$\endgroup\$ – Guney Ozsan Jan 23 '15 at 11:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ There are also bounty hunter lawyers, who look for illegal uses (or uses that look like illegal to fear enough) and threaten owners with lawsuits, settle a payment and take commission out of it. \$\endgroup\$ – Guney Ozsan Jan 23 '15 at 12:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ This is slightly off topic, but: where is the line between something infringing on copyryight/trademarks and something just lookinig similar (in a legal sense)? I've seen plenty of games, from mod to AAA games, with cars, weapons or other items looking exactly or almost exactly like their real world counter parts, except for minor details and having a different name. Is it just the changed name that keeps companies from suing, or what does that depend on? \$\endgroup\$ – Christian Jan 23 '15 at 13:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Christian It's the depth of the pockets of the defendant which keeps them from suing when they aren't 100% sure they can win. Regarding the phenomenon of real-life firearms with made up names: TVTropes has an article about the topic. \$\endgroup\$ – Philipp Jan 23 '15 at 14:13
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Unless it is a personal use, which means if you go public free or not, you cannot use the exact, recreated or apparently imitated designs without permission.

For parody and fan uses, every company reacts totally different. Some are totally ok with most fan art, some took it very seriously against it and take immediate legal action for any public use. There are also bounty hunter lawyers, who work in agreement with companies and look for illegal uses (or uses that look like illegal to fear enough), threaten owners with lawsuits, settle a payment and take commission out of it.

About fair use, it is not a world-wide concept. In some countries fair use still requires permission. Besides that if you are using them as a decoration, that is, not making humor, writing a research article or giving lectures in a school... etc. it is not fair use even distributed free. You still make benefit (fame, credibility, showcase, uneven competition...etc) out of some other people's work.

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