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Old 10-25-2008, 11:43 PM   #1
Lasher
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Copyrighted character names.

Most MUDs, MMOs, etc have a lot of character (player) names that are taken from various books and movies.

Is anyone aware of an instance where a copyright holder ever made noise about that? No specific reason for asking other than it was an interesting discussion point which came up elsewhere earlier.
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Old 10-26-2008, 05:47 AM   #2
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Re: Copyrighted character names.

Should not be the problem.
No name should be rendered to "should not be use for anything - forever" - just because it's used in some media what is at some point sold to consumers.

Lets take example of real human names.
Here is web page of finnish Population Register Centre's registry where you can search specific names and you get appearance count per certain time periods.
PRC: Population Register Centre
You can find:
gandalf, frodo, xena, krystle, demian, damien, j, jesus (but not finnish version of it "jeesus").
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Old 08-06-2010, 12:21 PM   #3
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Re: Copyrighted character names.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Lasher View Post
Most MUDs, MMOs, etc have a lot of character (player) names that are taken from various books and movies.

Is anyone aware of an instance where a copyright holder ever made noise about that? No specific reason for asking other than it was an interesting discussion point which came up elsewhere earlier.

Actually, no.

Seriously, I believe that names aren't copyrightable. Stories and concepts are, but names no.

A good point I like to make is this; In this story, the Bond Family of (whatever part of the world you want) names their first born son 'James'. And he spends the rest of his life trrying to live it down.

Am I in violation by doing this?

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Old 08-07-2010, 06:55 AM   #4
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Re: Copyrighted character names.

Names themselves cannot be copyrighted but if they are especially popular then they may be trademarked.

Names that are taken from a book and then used vaguely in the same context as that book could be considered a derivative work and as such could be subject to copyright. I have heard of one or two muds asked to remove copyrighted material in the past but it was a long time ago. I think mostly it was because they went and asked permission and found it was denied.
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Old 08-07-2010, 07:37 AM   #5
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Re: Copyrighted character names.

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I have heard of one or two muds asked to remove copyrighted material in the past but it was a long time ago.
A lot of MUDs could probably be closed down due to copyright infringement .
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Old 08-07-2010, 08:18 AM   #6
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Re: Copyrighted character names.

Well, I think a lot of the stock muds (mine included) have infringing areas, but they can be whipped out quite easily so the mud itself wouldn't have to shut down.

As for those that base themselves entirely around someone else's intellectual property though, yes, they could certainly be at risk. They just have to hope they fly under the radar really.
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Old 08-07-2010, 12:57 PM   #7
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Re: Copyrighted character names.

MUD's started out being run on Uni mainframes. I don't think MUDders are particularly law abiding types. In other words we don't care. :-)
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Old 08-07-2010, 01:51 PM   #8
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Re: Copyrighted character names.

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MUD's started out being run on Uni mainframes. I don't think MUDders are particularly law abiding types. In other words we don't care. :-)
Are you saying we installed, utilized, and ran games on University Servers without permission. Noooooooo. We wouldn't do that.
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Old 08-07-2010, 04:21 PM   #9
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Re: Copyrighted character names.

Well, using trademarked names might get you a visit from the Magical Knights of the Spoooooky Wizard....
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Old 08-08-2010, 10:53 PM   #10
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Re: Copyrighted character names.

Muds are really just the small fry that nobody much cares about. How sad.

City of Heroes had to remove copyrighted names. But you were able to basically make your character look very similar to a marvel or DC superhero character, so being able to use the name alongside that, even as user content, really treads the line.

In a text game, as much as we'd like to think otherwise (and as much as the law technically says otherwise) - we're essentially just making interactive fan fiction.

Yes, lawyers could descend on a webpage that is hosting some harry potter fan fiction, and point out that the author is damaging their property by making Harry fight Nazghul. But they're unlikely to care, or even notice, unless it's either making money (and I mean actual money, not just running costs), selling merchandise, or otherwise threatening their property. If asked, though, they'd probably refuse permission to avoid the future argument that they've granted licence if they change their mind later.

That said, not everyone will say no. Ironclaw Online runs with the full blessings of Sanguine (who publish the tabletop game of Ironclaw) - they've even supported us by sending books, artwork, and other background material. Thanks, guy! You rock!
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Old 08-09-2010, 01:18 PM   #11
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Re: Copyrighted character names.

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Originally Posted by silvarilon View Post
That said, not everyone will say no. Ironclaw Online runs with the full blessings of Sanguine (who publish the tabletop game of Ironclaw) - they've even supported us by sending books, artwork, and other background material. Thanks, guy! You rock!
That is very cool. I like hearing positive examples like this.
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Old 11-26-2010, 04:23 AM   #12
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Re: Copyrighted character names.

I play Ironclaw, and agree that it is better than that now corrupted game I had been playing at Skotos for the past nine years

I'm also a writer of fan fiction, and can state that as long as it's done not for profit there's nothing any lawyers can say or do. Its when money changes hands, or the demand for pay is made, then the action starts. Of course, not all authors will allow fan fiction of their works to be published (a list of their names is found at Fanfiction.com for reference), and this is usually do to what a few overly-imaginative fans come up with.

But on a whole, the majority do enjoy what the fans produce--and even encourage these wantabe writers to further their litterary carrers becoming successful authors in their own right.


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Old 11-26-2010, 10:49 AM   #13
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Re: Copyrighted character names.

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Originally Posted by Darren Brimhall View Post
I'm also a writer of fan fiction, and can state that as long as it's done not for profit there's nothing any lawyers can say or do.
Legally speaking, that's not true. Just because you haven't had a cease-and-desist order yet doesn't mean they're not entitled to issue you one. The profit or not-for-profit nature can be taken into account when judging how fair the use is, but simply being not-for-profit does not make it legal.
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Old 11-27-2010, 08:50 PM   #14
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Re: Copyrighted character names.

While it's true that some Authors and creators have no problem with 'fan fiction' or use of their character's names in games and other outlets, it cannot be said that there is no legal problem. Yes, you can name Mr and Mrs Bond's child 'James'...but when you add that he undergoes training as an Agent for the MI5, or is involved in espionage, then you have crossed into copyright. JK Rowling, for example, advocates Fan Fiction and has often said that she finds it flattering when people write about Harry; She has, however, been attentive to some sites and works that portray her characters in an 'unseemly' way, or publications that try to make money off her work. She's had her people close down sites and 'fan-fic' forums. And then there's the added confusion of Laws of a particular country. The US has very different Copyright laws than the UK, Australia, China, or where-ever else. Assuming that what goes in the US is what goes anywhere else is bad form, to say the very least, and is misleading to people who are concerned about such things. If you're worried about using a character name or other aspects of a writer/creator's work, best to try to contact their estate or agent and get a clear picture of things, isn't it?

I'm not trying to be nasty, either, but when you say 'I can state 'blah blah'', it doesn't make it true.
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Old 11-27-2010, 10:01 PM   #15
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Re: Copyrighted character names.

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Originally Posted by Sasca View Post
While it's true that some Authors and creators have no problem with 'fan fiction' or use of their character's names in games and other outlets, it cannot be said that there is no legal problem. Yes, you can name Mr and Mrs Bond's child 'James'...but when you add that he undergoes training as an Agent for the MI5, or is involved in espionage, then you have crossed into copyright.

)
So if you marry Don Bond and name your kid James, young Jim is barred from pursuing a career that involves undercover government work?
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Old 11-29-2010, 07:34 PM   #16
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Re: Copyrighted character names.

I think the phrase that people want for this conversation is "derivative work"

What are derivative works under Copyright law? | LegalZoom

Basically, are you making a "new version" of the previous characters.

So I can't put "Wolverine" into my mud (or fan fiction) if I'm talking about a soldier who has claws hidden in his hands and uses the phrase "Bub" a lot.
I can't even put Wolverine in if I change his backstory to make him British and have him exclaim "Oh my gosh!" and drink tea a lot. Since I'm making a changed, "new" version of the character. But it's still based (derived from...) the original character.

I *can* make a character who reads comics, and thinks that Wolverine is totally awesome. And makes himself gloves with claws, and insists that everyone calls him "Wolverine" - something like that would be different enough that I'm obviously not talking about the same character, and I'm not making a "poor mans wolverine" that I can then use to tell wolverine-like stories. If that kid, on the other hand, got claws surgically implanted, and went around fighting Supervillains... well, I'd be on shaky legal ground.

Bear in mind, most character's names are also trademarked. Which means, even if I could legally make this character who loves comics and dresses like wolverine, I still might not be able to sell backpacks with the word "Wolverine!" written on it in yellow and black. I probably wouldn't be able to write a story about the kid calling himself "Wolverine" if that story is published as a comic... and so on.

Similarly, if you've got a sci-fi MUD, with laser blasters, robot soldiers, and spaceships, and there is a character called "Luke Skywalker" who carries a laser sword... you're in breach. Even if it's a laser sword instead of a lightsabre. Even if he isn't a "Jedi". Even if he's actually named "Luke Starkiller."

So long story short:
- If your game has a character called "Wolverine" - is there any chance that the players will assume that the character is our claw-wielding Canadian character? If so, you're in breach of copyright.
- Are you using the character for social commentary, or to make a point about the original source material? If so, you *might* be covered under parody laws.
- Are you using the same name as a character in another MUD, when that character's name is trademarked? If so, you're in breach of trademark laws. (But I'd be very surprised if *any* names were trademarked for MUDs)

In practice:
People don't care about your MUD. You don't make enough money for them to worry, and you don't have enough exposure to impact their brand. HOWEVER, if anyone brings their attention to the infringement of copyright, they MUST tell you to stop, otherwise they can loose the copyright.

Which means, in practice, if you want LotR or Mass Effects muds, it needs to be a "don't ask, don't tell" situation.
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Old 11-29-2010, 10:37 PM   #17
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Re: Copyrighted character names.

Quote:
Originally Posted by silvarilon View Post

So long story short:
- If your game has a character called "Wolverine" - is there any chance that the players will assume that the character is our claw-wielding Canadian character? If so, you're in breach of copyright.
- Are you using the character for social commentary, or to make a point about the original source material? If so, you *might* be covered under parody laws.
- Are you using the same name as a character in another MUD, when that character's name is trademarked? If so, you're in breach of trademark laws. (But I'd be very surprised if *any* names were trademarked for MUDs)
It may change the discussion (or maybe not) to note that the original context was intended to be player names, not "game content".

I've never played any of the MMOs, never have, do they make any effort to police player names along these lines?
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Old 11-30-2010, 12:35 AM   #18
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Re: Copyrighted character names.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Lasher View Post
It may change the discussion (or maybe not) to note that the original context was intended to be player names, not "game content".

I've never played any of the MMOs, never have, do they make any effort to police player names along these lines?
Depends on the MMO. And depends on their legal situation.
There is currently (in the US) a concept called "safe harbor" in regards to player-created breaches of copyright - basically, if a player breaks copyright the company isn't responsible, as long as the company removes the infringement as soon as it's pointed out to them. (And possibly as long as the company removes the player, if the player continues to breach copyright)

This is what lets Youtube keep running, despite the massive amounts of copyright material on there. They do take down the copyright material that gets pointed out.

So... as for MMOs policing players, that will depend on the MMO, and the context.
If I'm playing WoW or D&D online, they will probably make little to no effort to police it. I could probably make "Gandalf" the human wizard in WoW without a problem. Because Blizzard won't be checking carefully, and the LotR estate won't be chasing that up unless it's rubbed in their face.

However, City of Heroes certainly does police names. In City of Heroes I can make a yellow-lycra-wearing character with claws that regenerates. I can basically make Wolverine. And I can then take my character and go out fighting villains. So Marvel (and DC) do police that game. You are automatically blocked from using any of the "established" character names, and if you sneak under the radar, you might find the character name changed for you.

But note:
- City of Heroes is the same genre as the marvel characters
- The game allows you to make characters with similar powers and costumes to the marvel characters
- i.e. players are making derivatives of the original characters, and that is part of the appeal of the commercial game. Which isn't legal.

A character named "Wolverine" in WoW wouldn't be nearly as problematic. And probably wouldn't be policed.

As for MUDs, there certainly is no legal problem allowing a "James Bond" character name in a game that's not about spies and espionage.

And honestly? Legalties aside, nobody is going to care what your players name their characters. If it's an annoying name that doesn't suit your game or setting, make the players change it. If not, leave them. I wouldn't worry about the law, ESPECIALLY for player-created content.

If you do get a letter (which you won't) you can then change the player name, and be fine.
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Old 11-30-2010, 03:08 AM   #19
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Re: Copyrighted character names.

Quote:
HOWEVER, if anyone brings their attention to the infringement of copyright, they MUST tell you to stop, otherwise they can loose the copyright.
I think you mean trademark here and not copyright. If you knowingly allow people to infringe your copyright without permission it could certainly reduce any damages should you sue someone else, but it doesn't affect the copyright itself. Trademarks on the other hand have to be defended or you are in danger of losing them.
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Old 12-01-2010, 07:15 PM   #20
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Re: Copyrighted character names.

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I think you mean trademark here and not copyright. If you knowingly allow people to infringe your copyright without permission it could certainly reduce any damages should you sue someone else, but it doesn't affect the copyright itself. Trademarks on the other hand have to be defended or you are in danger of losing them.
Thanks for the correction
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