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Subject: Need help with a legal question rss

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Mark Levy
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I have a game idea that would include the names of athletes. Is this legal?
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Michael J
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It's not "illegal" (e.g. you won't go to jail), but you could be sued by the athletes for name infringement. There are certain fair use doctrines that allow names to be used, such as in newspapers, magazines, and in media. But you generally cannot use anyone's name (athlete or otherwise), and include their likeness in any way, without their express permission. There are many possible exceptions to these rules, but for the most part, I'd say don't do it. Now, if you aren't planning on charging for your game, and it's just for you and a few people, you probably wouldn't ever get sued - more likely you'd get a nice letter asking you to stop distribution of the game (a ceast and desist letter). But it's not worth it. You can modify names slightly, of both players and teams, and have a better chance of succeeding in your endeavour.

Mike
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Many judges consider a person's likeness & name to be IP and frown on anything other than "fair use". Most athletes tend to be careful of what they associate themselves with. As self-merchandising is a high part of athletes' income streams, I would expect lawsuits at the very least if you appeared even as a blip on their lawyers' radars. In short, if you do not get permission in writing I would avoid this issue.

There is one exception to this rule: parody. If you do anything that can remotely be considered parody than, according to the US Supreme Court, you do have fair use rights to images and, possibly, names -- depending on how you do it. Take a look at ShowBiz Shuffle and see how the designer handled this; it is obvious who the actors, actresses, & directors are, yet her a$$ is fully covered.

Hope this helps and good luck.
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Scott
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I know that games like Strat-o-matic and APBA sign deals/get permission from the Players Union(or some other organization representing all the athletes) to use the names of all players in a league. Certain players(i.e. Barry Bonds did it with Strat for a while) can then opt-out of that deal. It's similar to the deal that bar bands get with the songwriters union.

However, while I think that while it's obviously cheaper than working out deals with individuals it's may still be too expensive for a small publisher.

Who knows? I know their are some free baseball computer sims out there that scramble team names but I'm not sure about player names. Maybe do an online search for Free Baseball Sims and see what turns up and how they handle the legal end.

You could always pass it off as parody ala Dream Factory.

Good luck!

(edit,changed satire to parody)
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Uwe A. Redjac
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Koldfoot wrote:
I simply meant ask. If you approach it in the right way, and are sincere, you might be surprised. I doubt you could get everyone on a given team to let you use their name, but it doesn't hurt to try.


Another way to go yet: make it a parody. Change names in a slightly silly way and have cartoonish versions of the real guys instead.
 
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Steve Severino
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If you are simply using player NAMES and associating them with the players' statistics, you will be fine. Names & stats are FACTS that are free to use and don't require licensing/payment. In fact, there was a court case in 2007 involving Major League Baseball vs. CDM (a provider of online fantasy sports games) that got a lot of press last year, especially in the fantasy baseball community (of which I'm involved). MLB sued CDM to try and force the company to pay a very large licensing fee because CDM was using NAMES and STATS of major league players in its fantasy games. MLB lost the suit. The court ruled that MLB does NOT own these FACTS -- they are public facts, and CDM (and other companies that include player names & stats in their fantasy products) is NOT required to pay any licensing fee for using them in their products. It was a huge win for the fantasy sports industry as a whole.

I ran into this issue many years ago with one of my own baseball products. A representative from MLB sent me a letter asking me to pay licensing fees to them. I flat out told them NO, because I was only using player names/stats in my products and no logos or recognizable player photos/likenesses (such as you frequently see used in video games like those of EA Sports). They didn't bother me after that and that was the last I heard from them on the issue.

But if you are using player IMAGES (photos or likenesses) and especially pro team LOGOS, then you are indeed venturing into an area which requires licensing from the league or player's union. If you ever look closely at sports games, you will notice that some use actual photos & logos, and generally have a blurb about "endorsed by the MLB Players Association" on the box (or whatever league the game applies to). Then there are other games where pictures of player hats/helmets/jerseys have no logos shown at all (or very fuzzed-out images). That's because those publishers never obtained a paid license to use the league's logos.

BTW: Best of luck with your game!
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Mark McEvoy
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For pro team sports, unless the player is independent of the players' union's licensing (I only know of 3 players in pro sports like this: Michael Jordan, Barry Bonds, and Lavar Arrington), you'd have to go through the union for permission. And it wouldn't be cheap.
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Steve Severino
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By the way, if you want to read about the court case that I previously cited, go here:

http://www.patentarcade.com/2007/11/case-cbc-v-major-league-...
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