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Game art: modified buildings from photos. Issues?

  • Hi everyone,

    I am planning to make a game that uses photos from the Internet.

    Modify them quite a bit but the subjects/landmarks overall would still be recognizable.

    I am using photos that are adhering with the creative commons copyright. They're all free and all the authors ask is that credits are given (which I plan to do in-game in the credit roll.)

    Do you guys see an issue with this if I want to monetize the game?

    Do you guys have a link to a website that talks about copyright and photos used for a video game?

    Thanks

  • That's a good question.

    I guess it depends exactly on the license used for the photos. Creative commons have several licenses, but if you are sure you are allowed to use and modify their work in a commercial end with only having to credit them, I guess there should be no issue with monetizing the game.

    Perhaps you could even give credits for the photo ingame while playing it.

    As long as you're making it clear that the content is common creative it should be fine.

    Better check with some lawyer though, don't take only my word for it, but that's my understanding of creative commons licenses.

  • Thanks for the reply, Kyatric.

    I contacted the author of one of the images that required only to give credits and we agreed that simply stating his name in the credits roll would be fine.

    I was also made aware of the "50% modified rule" when you pick any images from the 'net. I just cannot find anything about it but it would seem like if you modify an image so that at least 50% of it's visual is not recognizable from the original, you're fine to use it both commercially and non-c.

    Have you or anyone ever heard of that rule and maybe provide a link about it?

    Thanks

  • I've never heard of any such "rule".

    If you don't own the rights to a picture, you don't own the rights to that pictures. There are situations where you can use a picture you don't directly own the rights to. It could be public domain or under a license which lets you use it (like some Creative Commons licenses). But any 50% rule I have never heard of. (The use of "rule" instead of citing specific laws should be a warning bell)

  • That 50% rule doesn't make any sense <img src="smileys/smiley1.gif" border="0" align="middle"> If I would take Super Mario sprite and paint half of him black and then believe there's no copyright issues doesn't make much sense.

    Creative commons has different licenses and what they hold can be checked from their site.

    http://creativecommons.org/licenses/

  • From what I heard, this "rule" was proposed by lawyers who studied this exact type of issue. It is applied in at least 1 videogame company that I know of.

    I also know an Art Director who confirmed me that's what they were told at the university actually.

    Also, the rule don't make sense if you apply a non-logical reflection to it, nemo. :)

    Changing the color of half of Mario's body is not modifying 50% of its appearance. I would guess about 10%.

    You would need to, example, change the colors AND his apparels (say for a t-shirt and jeans) make him taller, replace his cap for hair, remove the mustache. That counts for at least 50% changes, therefore, from what I heard, would constitute a new design that you would own the rights to.

    It's just there's no legal document that I can find or article on the internet confirming it.

    Another interrogation I have: Can you use the image of a popular building freely in a game? Or do you need to ask the city in which it resides for permission? I'm going to do some research about that right now. :)

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  • All these issues are probably why we don't see many games like this! Good luck, you have quite the road ahead if you want to do this all above board ;)

  • It is applied in at least 1 videogame company that I know of.

    can you name the company?

    I also know an Art Director who confirmed me that's what they were told at the university actually.

    It's not impossible that he is, or was, misinformed.

    It's just there's no legal document that I can find or article on the internet confirming it.

    Which is why it's more likely that it doesn't exist.

    There are a few major problems with this supposed rule.

    If you change it so much that it's a new design. Why not just make a character of your own?

    If you were to change something to that degree, but still have it be recognizable as the original piece of art, it's still technically a breach of intellectual property rights.

    Another interrogation I have: Can you use the image of a popular building freely in a game? Or do you need to ask the city in which it resides for permission? I'm going to do some research about that right now. :)

    I don't think interrogation was the word you wanted to use...

    As previously mentioned, it's better to go to an actual lwyer for these kinds of questions. But in general I think you're ok if the building is a public building, and the image/photo is public domain or under CC or some other similar license (note that I'm assuming you're talking about using photos. If you just want to have the likeness of a building that's a slightly different issue). If the house is a place of residence and/or if the building is private property I'd check with the owner. If it's a landmark, like the Statue of Liberty, check with the city/region it's located in.

  • Best way to stay safe is to create your own sprites.You can use other's game art as referrence for your own game art though.As long as it's not the same as the ref art.Hope that makes sense.

  • This is a lawsuit waiting to happen.

  • Thanks for all the replies, people.

    I can't create all these photo realistic assets myself. That's why I need to use photos.

    Securing the license to use a photo shouldn't be a problem. It's mainly the subjects/landmarks on these images that I'm worried about. It could be necessary to get some sort of agreement or usage right from the city in which they reside. Example: there could be a problem with me using a photo of the Statue of Liberty and saying it's the bad guy's secret base. :) NY might not like it, I don't know. I wonder what they do with these issues in movies.

    If I can modify the subjects enough to the point where it's considered a new piece of art and different enough so it's obvious it's not the Statue of Liberty anymore under the law, I could be fine too and it would be much easier.

    I guess only a lawyer with a good knowledge of the video game industry will provide a defitive answer.

    Thanks again, C2 users.

  • You can get a lawyer, but he/she will tell you what you've already been told here. You have a good idea to secure licenses first, that obviously makes sense and is ALWAYS the safest route. But just modifying without permission is, as I've said, a lawsuit waiting to happen.

    I speak from two decades of experience in Copyrights, Trademarks and Patents, and I do hold several of my own so I am more than certain of this situation.

  • The Dev, I know what you are talking about. While I cant point to a source I have heard numbers being thrown around like that.

    Its very subjective, but I think the 50% rule is another way of saying 'sufficiently different'. So if you took inspiration from a source and made it sufficiently different you would no longer need to worry.

  • MrMiller:

    I can't agree more with you and thanks for the additional info. Like I said, my intention is not to just pickup any photo and modify it without asking. I want to use copyright-free/royalty-free photos of landmarks/objects of which I want to change the appearance so that they aren't easily recognizable.

    It's the subject in the picture that matters here, not photo copyright. :)

    Do you know if you must ask, say, NY to use the Statue of Liberty as part of a game's story? Or London for BigBen?

    Genki:

    Thanks for the tip. I'll further my investigation tomorrow. I'll call a lawyer's firm to be sure about the landmark recognition issue. And for sure I won't use copyrighted photos and modify them and hope it'll be ok. I just hope this "rule" applies to the likeliness of public buildings and landmarks.

    I mean I don't even want to use super popular landmarks, just some building from some city.

  • There is no copyright on public buildings. You can put the statue of liberty or the eiffel tower wherever you want. Even if there was any hint of copyright on any of them, it has long since fell into public domain.

    Photos, on the other hand, are very different, but if you use them as inspiration or draw on top of them or something, who can say what photo you used?

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