Where is the line drawn in regards to including real people/magazines/tv shows in our fiction?

I’m juggling a few different ideas right now, but one thing that they all have in common, is that they would all include real people, real tv shows, well known quantities in our modern world.

This is just an example, but say I was writing a cyoa game about being a heavy metal band or something like that. Would I be allowed to include real bands, the names of the members, as characters in my game?

Example: Protagonist makes a popular album, and Slipknot invites him to a party. He spends time with the members of slipknot etc… Maybe they drink Jack Daniels or go to Starbucks?? Oops, Tom Cruise is at the party with a reporter from Rolling Stone.

I hope you get the idea.So, where is the line drawn? Can you only mention people (or maybe you can’t even do that?). If I had hoped of monetization, would i have to ask permission to use their names etc?

Or should you always just say “The members of KanonHell (made up band) met up with Tim Carver, a very famous action movie star, standing just 5.5 feet tall, known for his explosive Agent Incredible series and the high-flying pilot movie Top Dog.” :stuck_out_tongue:

Are there any general rules about this?

I wouldn’t use real names for anything in a CoG game.

People sue each other for many stupid reasons…

Guess I’ll go with Tim Carver from Top Dog… xD

I suspect I’m strongly in the minority, but personally, I strongly dislike the use of real people, especially if they’re currently alive, in such games.But then I’ve also not got much time for the whole celebrity culture that our society seems to worship. I do enjoy tongue in cheek, thinly disguised parody names though.

I’d suggest buying Hollywood Visionary when it’s released on Friday to see how it does things. It uses the names of real people, that you can meet and employ.

As such, I think you’re more than free to use real people in whatever capacity that you like in your game.

But, check to ensure you’re not using any trademarked names in a defamatory manner, and you should be fine.

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Thanks for putting that game on my radar. Sounds very interesting. I’ll be looking forward to that!

And I think i might enjoy the Tim Carver style names more than the actual Tom Cruise.

I guess, when it comes to music, it is just easier if you have an already known quantity to display, instead of having to build it up, but maybe I’m just thinking in a lazy manner! :smiley:

@FairyGodfeather’s post above is pretty comprehensive. Just wanted to throw in that it absolutely depends on the people you’re using, too. Choice of Vampires has one or two historical figures, doesn’t it? It’s a safer bet if you’re referencing, say, Thomas Jefferson or Marilyn Monroe, who have become more like icons in the present day. (I mean, there’s that one movie with Abraham Lincoln and zombies…)

I think reasonable use of either is fine. What you’re really concerned about here is trademark law and right of publicity.

Trademark law is going to cover things like “Starbucks” or “Jack Daniels,” things that are brand identifiers. The key element for a trademark infringement claim is likelihood of confusion. This basically means that your use of the trademark would confuse people as to what the true origin of the product is. So referring to characters drinking Jack Daniels once or twice is fine, a reference to them drinking it on very page is more problematic, and calling your game “Choice of Jack Daniels” probably isn’t okay because a reasonable person would think Jack Daniels was behind the game. There’s additional issues that arise from the use of famous marks, like “Barbie” or “McDonalds” for things like trademark dilution, but that’s not at issue here since you are not using the terms as a product origin identifier (unless you do call your game “Choice of Jack Daniels”).

Right of publicity would govern the use of celebrity names. Right of publicity claims vary state to state, but the general elements are using the person’s identity to your advantage without their consent, and that they suffer an injury for that. In a case like what you mentioned, I think a celebrity would have a hard time proving an injury or showing that you appropriated their identity for your advantage. No one is going to buy your game because Tom Cruise is mentioned once, and most cases on right of publicity claims are about things like using a celebrity look-alike for a commercial or something.


Vampire has a lot of historical figures, in fact. Moreso in St. Louis, but definitely in Memphis.

It will become interesting as I get closer to present day to figure out how to walk that line. Someone who’s dead or famous you can do pretty much what you want with them. But living, private individuals have rights regarding the use of their identity.

You could always take the “West Wing” approach to this, where Nixon is the last “historical” president and they use suspiciously similar substitutes (Owen Lassiter instead of Reagan in the 80’s) for figures closer to the present day (read, those who are either alive themselves or have a living spouse and/or children who would object).

I’d imagine that historical figures could be used however you please (Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter, anyone?) but perhaps it’s best to instead parody them? Like Tim Cruiser from Mission Possible.