Quotes and homages

Okay I guess I want to ask this question on legal grounds more than moral grounds, but I’ll take moral advice too.

I would like ideally to use quotes from movies or literature within my Choicescript game. This is more about homage and tribute than about stealing a good line. When players reach these quotes they would feel an affinity to the piece of fiction as though they are living it. In my case, one of the main sources is Shakespeare, but I would also like to use other quotes at certain action points in my game. I must stress that these points would be few and far between.

E.g. in the movie Troy, a warrior remarks on the crows “they’ve never tasted Prince before.” In my Choicescript game, crows circle a dying character and I would like someone to remark that the crows “have never tasted ${title} before.”

Question 1 is how does the legality work (first of all, this isn’t a direct quote, secondly its very short) with regards to a hosted game? Secondly I guess is the question involving classical lit including Shakespeare. As far as I know copyright allows short extracts of music, does the same apply to quotes? Would it be any different if I were to put a character called Macbeth in my story (for arguments sake?) Or if I were to have someone called Lord of the Rings? (Only using these examples to test the point, they’re not actual things I would be using) thanks.

I’m not a legal specialist of any kind, but I can at least tell you this much: Shakespeare’s works are no longer copyrighted (if they ever exactly were, by our modern terms). As long as you’re borrowing directly from his works, and not from a modern interpretation, using Shakespearean quotations is fine.

Ah, the degree to which things fall under Parody and Fair Use. I won’t go into depth, but one obvious note I can give is Public Domain is always free. In the US that would pretty much everything published pre-1923. So anything about Macbeth is okay, so long as you pulling from the original source and not building off of what someone else did more recently.

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Anything on contemporary movie quotes?

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A few lines put there as a result of popular knowledge and like a parody enter in the fair use category. Stuff like saying “I am your father” Or quoting x video game always Is a few lines and doesn’t copy the scene. If you describe exactly same scene with same characters is more problematic. But simply quote or parody is ok, pure fair use.

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So, I can use Matrix quotes ? Yay ! :smiley:

I am not a legal expert either. I have a little experience in academic publishing, but that’s it, and I haven’t worked in permissions. This is not legal counsel.

As far as I know, you can totally name your characters Macbeth, Gandalf, Bilbo, and Frodo. Those names are all hundreds of years old. If you had a character actually named after a franchise, like Lord of the Rings, then you might have to publish your choice game yourself, and I think you could get a stern letter from a lawyer representing whomever currently owns that trademark. Then Lord of the Rings might have to become Pat or Taylor or something. That’s if they care enough to send you one. I don’t know whether they would, or how well fair use would hold up as a defense.

As long as your game isn’t a threat to someone’s brand (i.e. trying to profit off of someone else’s work, or at risk of becoming associated with the brand itself), I think it is unlikely that any copyright or trademark owners will care. If you are quoting very large chunks of text directly from copyrighted works, or if you are using copywrited images, then you need permission. Otherwise, as long as it is obvious where the quote comes from, and that you are not trying to pass someone else’s work off as your own, then you are fine. (Even if it isn’t, you won’t get a stern letter from a Hollywood studio for ripping off one line.)

That’s from the business/moral perspective, at least. From the artistic/game-design perspective, you might run into some issues.

The problematic example in that regard is the quote about crows. Recognizing that line as a reference would require someone to remember a single line from the movie Troy. That’s a little like asking guys to remember what the wings at Hooters tasted like. It’s not why they went, it’s not what they took away from the experience, and many would rather not be reminded that they paid money for it.

Even if it were a more iconic line, reusing a line from a movie rarely works as an homage. Usually it comes across as a ripoff, or at best a random pop culture reference. Unless you are writing a comedy, that’s usually a choice between anger inducing or only mildly annoying.

If you set up another character as a rival to the MC, whose disgust and anger are reminiscent of Menelaus’s feelings toward Paris, and you have your rival repeat, word for word, a line from an old translation of the Iliad, then you have an homage.

If you’re writing a comedy, and using that line makes the scene funnier, then go for it. Otherwise I’d come up with another old-timey way to say “you goin’ die,” which is what the original line accomplished.


Hi @BabbleYaggle that’s all pretty useful information. In this case, its not so much that I wanted a homage to the movie Troy, but that my character would use a very similar line in this kind of situation anyway. My use of crows is more related to the Shakespeare than anything else, and I understand there are other things I can say about crows eating titled persons. I understand and agree from your post, that a lot of cheesy movie references would be annoying as hell unless this was the intention from the outset (ie a comedy).

I’d be surprised if there weren’t some risk with these, notwithstanding Tolkien pulling them from older sources – given how very obscure those sources were, and how very not obscure the modern, copyrighted story that uses them is.


And Rowling used a three headed dog in her works, pretty sure I knew that one from somewhere else before too.
If it’s just names, just point the court to those sources and you should be fine, the trickier part is if the description or profession of your Gandalf matches Tolkien’s too closely. Gandalf the old pipe smoking Wizard may conceivably be copyrighted, but Gandalf the cigar smoking garbageman should be totally fine. What actually matters is the degree of similarity.

You are also likely to be fine if your work can fall under the parody exception, and remember that not all parodies have to be funny, parodies that play up the angst and (melo)drama compared to the original are equally valid.

As for obscurity of sources, (for the Netherlands at least) if the Royal library here can obtain them, even at difficulty and a processing fee you can enter them as evidence and you should be fine if they attempted to actually sue your over just the name.

Still the big thing to consider as a starving artist is unfortunately not what’s actually legal but what you can afford, if you cannot afford to call the bluff of some major companies then perhaps its best to reconsider.

Not necessarily, if you’re say writing a contemporary piece then having your character driving a Ferrari, wearing a Rolex and, yes, even being a Lord of the Rings fanboy (or girl) should be fine and you can even have the character (mis)quote some lines from it. So long as you do it for verisimilitude and take some care not to defame a work or brand too much.
For example insinuating that all Rolex wearers are corporate fatcats with zero scruples and absolutely no morals might not go over too well.

Newsflash, 90% of sternly worded letters lawyers and some other types of jurist send are nothing more than cheap intimidation tactics that mean very little. In most cases, if you signal you’re prepared to call the bluff you’ll be let off with an equally sternly worded warning not to cause trouble in the future, as most clients don’t actually want to take every possible infringement to trial, especially if there’s a reasonable chance they could lose said trial themselves.
The problem lies in the 10% that are serious. Note that with some companies and for some very popular and profitable works those numbers may be reversed.

Agreed on the homage thing though spouting pop-culture references may be an acceptable trait for one of your characters.
Pop-culture sprouting can work particularly in shows where the human(s) from our world and/or time are the other, such as Farscape where the Chrichton character does it fairly regularly.

Lastly facts and historical events are theoretically free for all to use and abuse to their heart’s content and that may include quotes from politicians in relation to said events.
Therefore you can probably use “peace in our time”, “axis of evil” and “frischer und fröhlicher Krieg” to your heart’s content.

Obligatory disclaimer, this does not in any way, shape or form constitute legal advice and is most likely only valid for the EU, minus perfidious Albion, in general and the Netherlands in particular.

Maybe @Dolphinzgirl might want to chime in on the vagaries of us law here.

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@idonotlikeusernames I’ll try my best :slight_smile:

Obviously, none of this is legal advice, disclaimer, disclaimer, it only applies to US law, disclaimer, disclaimer, this is purely for informational/entertainment purposes and not for the purpose of providing legal advice, disclaimer, disclaimer.

As to contemporary movie quotes, there’s two ways they could be protected: under copyright law or trademark law.

Copyright law probably wouldn’t be much of an issue, since you can’t copyright a word or phrase, those would get trademark protection instead. Additionally, if you only use one quote from a movie in the course of your entire game, that would most likely be considered de minimis use (which isn’t the same thing as fair use), and therefore not a copyright violation.

Then there’s trademark law. A movie quote is also unlikely to get trademark protection because a trademark is used to identify the source of a product. There are relatively few quotes out there that people would immediately identify with a movie, and of those, even fewer that haven’t entered the cultural lexicon to the point of becoming generic, and therefore losing trademark protection. And to sustain a cause of action for trademark infringement in the first place, they would need to show that your use of the mark (the quote in this case) would cause confusion in the minds of consumers as to the source of the product, which seems pretty unlikely.

This is a pretty good article on the subject, if you want more detail: http://www.ipbrief.net/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/Shaw-Article.pdf.

As for characters and their names, copyright would protect who the character is (so you can’t write a choice game about Gandalf, the character from Lord of the Rings); trademark would protect the name. If the name was trademarked (and you can search the USPTO site for US trademarks), then it comes back to “is it going to cause confusion to consumers.” If your Gandalf is a cigar smoking garbageman, probably not. Then there’s the issue of trademark dilution. For example, George Lucas sued one of the members of 2 Live Crew for calling himself “Luke Skyywalker.” The judge issued a preliminary injunction prohibiting him from using any variation of the name “Luke Skywalker” 2 Live Crew’s use of sexually explicit lyrics could “dilute the distinctive quality” of the Lucas trademark. So if you do have a Gandalf, don’t have him do anything inappropriate :blush: