Referencing Media Inside of Games


#1

So, I’m working on a second game idea that is set in a modern era, albeit in a universe different to ours.

However, I’d like to have similar media like social media, movies, television shows, etc etc. At the least, I’d like to make references to popular shows and maybe even characters.

If I wanted to do this, would it be okay or is that a copyright infringement? If so, would I be able to change the names to be something similar but different?

Thank you to anyone who can help!!


#2

So far, a few WiPs I’ve played here have done that (have altered names of tv shows, sort of hint which real life show they refer to). Even one wip has altered the name of beverages brand. Beyond that I cannot say, as I am no expert. The others will help you out better.


#3

I could be completely wrong but AFAIK simply referencing pop culture is considered fair use, so you’d be perfectly fine mentioning how a character loves the Hunger Games. However, having Katniss appear in your story beyond a name drop would be copyright infringement I believe.

But again I could be completely wrong, so take from that what you will.


#4

It’s a thin line to toe. Technically, if you make money off a product that references someone else’s IP, they can sue for damages.

That said, I have read countless novels that reference contemporary music, literature, art, etc. - particularly YA (Meg Cabot is a huge one). It’s a sort of calculated risk.

Sure, you can have Pepsi and McDonald’s, but it’s often funnier to have Bebsi and WacDonald’s, instead, and it doesn’t invite trouble.

Now, there’s no guarantee you’d ever get sued, nor that the other party would win, but the risk is definitely there.


#5

I wish I can give you a clear answer, but this area can be a sort of gray area. Typically you are fine if you just make a brief passing reference…like describing someone’s car, or if they drink a Coca Cola, etc.

Even doing a comparison to a figure already used is normally fine, like “He reminds me a lot of Shaggy.”

However as @ashestoashes018 has said, some lawsuits have gone through. The ones I typically know of tend to fall into ‘libel suits’ where a business, etc. says they were portrayed in a bad light…like say having a character die of a bad hamburger while eating as McDonald’s.

Myself, I err on the side of caution and will make slight changes to names, etc.


#6

Thank you guys so much for the answers! When I get the demo of the game finally out, it’ll likely help gauge whether I’m toeing the line too far or if I’m in a “safe” area, I think.


#7

Look at Choice of Robots if you like. Kevin throws in so many references and homages that it’s a clear period piece, albeit a funny one.


#8

In my nonfiction book, the publisher was happy for me to mention the names of musical works–e.g. Cohen’s “Hallelujah” or Cash’s “Man in Black”–but if I’d wanted to quote the lyrics (which in the latter case I did) we’d have needed to get (i.e. buy) permission. Look in the front of any Stephen King novel and you’ll see that his quotes of copyrighted material are all done with permission.

It is a gray area, but mentioning other works of art/entertainment should be fine.


#9

I’m not an expert, but I think only referencing TV shows and movies is fair game. But, if you feel too uncomfortable doing it, I don’t see any problem in slightly changing the names of places the characters go and the films they watch. Like going to McRonald’s after seeing The Addenders on the theaters.

There’s a scene in the beginning of Thieves’ Gambit: Curse of the Black Cat where one of the characters involved is using a Grateful Dead t-shirt. I think that means that making references is okay.


#10

One thing I’ve seen is this:

Things that are solely referenced are named accurately, things and people interacted with are ‘laywer-friendly cameos’