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Using Movie Quotes ok?

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Brainstorm's picture
Joined: 09/03/2011

Is it ok to use movie quotes in a game or are there legal issues to consider?

OHMS Gaming
OHMS Gaming's picture
Joined: 03/13/2011
Unless they have copyrighted

Unless they have copyrighted the quote there should be no issue. As such it would be a case-by-case basis with no universal answer. Look at pop-culture t-shirts however. So many quotes are used from popular flicks with well known phrases and I haven't heard of any serious litigious noise about them. There are also cases made out of parody when it does become an issue...

Imagery, titles, etc. are a different story entirely however.

From the US Copyright office (regarding "fair use"):
How much of someone else's work can I use without getting permission?
Under the fair use doctrine of the U.S. copyright statute, it is permissible to use limited portions of a work including quotes, for purposes such as commentary, criticism, news reporting, and scholarly reports. There are no legal rules permitting the use of a specific number of words, a certain number of musical notes, or percentage of a work. Whether a particular use qualifies as fair use depends on all the circumstances.

Hope some of that helps. ;)

ilta's picture
Joined: 12/05/2008
close but not quite

I am not a lawyer blah blah blah internet legal advice is worth what you've paid for it blah blah blah.

In the US, and most other western countries, any text is protected by copyright upon its creation. No specific action is required for a work of text to be "copyrighted". The shirts OHMS discusses are either in violation of copyright law, and risk litigation for their creators and vendors, or pay a license fee to the copyright holders. Period.

Furthermore, when OHMS talks about "registering" things, I think what he means is trademarks. As in, Downy has trademarked "the quicker picker-upper" and nobody else can use that phrase to describe their paper towels, or indeed, anything. I'm not sure if key movie phrases are routinely protected in this way but for the big ones like May The Force Be With You it honestly wouldn't surprise me. Unique character names are also routinely trademarked. Again, this is IN ADDITION to the copyright protection that any unique combination of words automatically receives upon creation.

BTW, "Fair Use" is kind of like "self defense" -- it's something you can claim to defend yourself against a charge, but it is at its heart a legal argument, to be expressed in court. Which means even if you are claiming Fair Use, you still may have to go to court, with all the costs in time and money that implies. And you can still lose. It's not like Diplomatic Immunity in the Lethal Weapon universe. It's more like an argument you present, which is weighed based on a number of factors including damage it might do to the copyright holder's ability to make a profit, profit you're collecting, intended use, and other considerations.

So, my non-lawyer advice is don't do it if you ever hope to publish the game and/or share it with anyone beyond family and close friends. Even if you are, or should be, protected by Fair Use doctrine, the copyright holders can still send you threatening letters, can still take you to court, and can still win.

Make up your own quotes.

Codo's picture
Joined: 09/01/2011
Re: Using Movie Quotes ok?

The Zazzle forums had a pretty good discussion on this exact subject.

Down near the bottom of the 1st page, user 'dgdzines' has a pretty good commentary on the usage of movie quotes.

I make the preface: I am not a lawyer nor do I play one on TV. I refuse to be held liable for any legal advice because I am not a legal expert. Consult a real attorney if you want professional advice. The following are merely my own opinions and/or observations....

The bottom line seems to be...It's a huge grey area and that it is VERY easy to wander into the wrong side if you aren't careful. A movie review site can make all the quotes about a movie all day long because it is covered under fair use. A news reporter mentioning a quote from a movie while reporting on the movie is fair use. Weird Al making a song parody and incorporating a portion of the original song in the parody is covered under fair use. Heck, a library reprinting pages from a damaged book in order to repair the book is even fair use! Scholars and technical authors are even allowed usage of quotes to illustrate their points under fair use.

But when you get to something like a game...then you are treading on very thin ice. If your game is a complete parody of a particular movie, then you are allowed quotes from that particular movie (as long as your work would not cause financial harm to the original copyright holder). An example I saw on the Zazzle forum was using the old Intel Inside logo. If you had a shirt that said 'Irish Inside' then that was OK (as it was both a parody and didn't really have anything to do with computers). On the other hand, if you had the same image and said 'Idiot Inside' then you were potentially doing harm and thus were no longer within Fair Use.

I guess in the end it would be if you are making a parody, you *might* be OK. Minor phrases like "I'll be back." are a little harder to pin down from a copyright perspective. The less you use of another's copyrighted material, the safer you are (leading to: if you use none, then you are perfectly safe). But 'safe' doesn't mean you can't be sued and doesn't protect from receiving a cease & desist letter. Like one of my lawyer friends told me... Anybody can sue anybody else for anything, period. (Man, I hope my lawyer buddy doesn't have THAT quote copyrighted! LOL). Attributing a quote to its source doesn't help in your defense either...

Really, if you want to be safe, you can 'parody' the quotes and not worry at all (remember all the anti-plagiarism lessons from school?). Instead of "I'll be back!" you could say "I will be back!" That's a pretty poor example, but hopefully you get the point...if you can change it enough that it's not an exact quote...but you can keep it close enough that your audience gets the point, you should be OK...but see my lawyer buddy's quote from the previous paragraph. The only way to be perfectly safe is to make ZERO mention to ANYBODY else's copyrighted works.

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