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A Game about Slenderman - Copyright question

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Mugenjin
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Joined: 11/23/2010

Hello, everyone. I am a young game designer from Lithuania, and currently I am trying to get my first game published. The only problem is that thematically, the game revolves around a popular Internet horror icon, Slenderman. As some of you may know, Slenderman was conceived on Somethingawful forums and later gained popularity through the famous indie PC game, Slender.

Therefore, I'm really concerned about copyright issues and not sure if I should send the game offer to the publisher. On one hand, Slenderman is a somewhat popular meme, a product of internet folklore, which now has no clear source or owner company; on the other hand, he is still not a vampire, werewolf or other classic monster and his relative newness makes me wonder if I can use this character freely, without infringing any ownership laws. Or maybe these legal qualms should be left for the publisher?

As you see, I'm a little confused on whether I should change the theme(which would not work to the game's advantage) or send the description and rules unaltered to the publisher. Are so-called Creepypasta characters free to use and include in board games? I would be grateful for your advice, especially bearing in mind that my time till the deadline is running out.

And, needless to say, I apologize for my dreadful English.

EdWedig
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Joined: 09/15/2009
One of the hosts of the

One of the hosts of the Building the Game podcast recently had the same issue: they had created a Slenderman game, but were concerned about copyright and "stealing" someone else's property.

http://www.buildingthegamepodcast.com/

Mugenjin
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Joined: 11/23/2010
I'm grateful, EdWedig. By the

I'm grateful, EdWedig. By the way, wouldn't you mind mentioning which episode it was in?

EdWedig
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Joined: 09/15/2009
Sorry, I don't remember. I

Sorry, I don't remember. I listened to it earlier this summer, but from what I can see, it's not mentioned in their show notes.

Let me see what I can find out.

-Ed

Aerjen
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Joined: 08/28/2008
I've seen several projects

I've seen several projects on Kickstarter that were based on Slenderman. One of them was a(n unsuccessfully funded) game as well: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1844829516/the-feral-slenderman-card...

Maybe you can try reaching out to the game designer to ask how he dealt with possible copyright issues.

McTeddy
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Joined: 11/19/2012
I Doubt there would be any

I Doubt there would be any issues with slenderman copyright wise. I'm fairly sure that it's been widely used enough that no one is protecting the rights to the character. I'm not sure... but that's my belief.

The one thing I'd be highly careful about is using any elements you see in the popular games or shows.

While Slenderman itself might not be protected, things in the various media MIGHT be. So, be careful not to use story from games or mechanics from them. Don't collect pages or anything like that.

Even if the original property is open for use... any changes that people made are protected.

EdWedig
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Joined: 09/15/2009
I reached out to Rob at the

I reached out to Rob at the Building the Game podcast, and this was his response:

"Yeah, Slenderman is a tricky critter, legal-wise. I pitched the game on Episode 25 of the show. Here's a link to the show, my original pitch description, and some follow up I did along with it:

http://www.buildingthegamepodcast.com/2012/11/18/episode-25-teamwork-and...

http://www.buildingthegamepodcast.com/2012/11/18/slender-man-game/

Since I wrote that I've heard other video game designers and creators struggle with the same problems. Basically I don't think any smart publisher would touch Slenderman with a ten foot pole. There are too many unknowns right now about it's copyright status, and none of them are going to want to spend the money on lawyers to get it straightened out. The bottom line is that the character is someone's intellectual property. And you can't use that unless you have his signature on a contract saying it's ok.

But that's no reason to stop designing a game. If you've got a good game with mechanics that are working, keep it up. Just invent your own character to drive the theme. You might even end up liking it better."

azarkon
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Joined: 09/27/2013
United States Copyright law

If you made a slender man game, there would be two types of copyright holders that might come after you, the creator of the character and the the creator of any of the various images of him.

It appears that the creator of slenderman is known, and that he's willing to freely give permission for others to use his idea. If you were going to shop your game to publishers, you'd want to get his permission in writing, preferably in a license agreement drafted by a lawyer.

Because so many people have made their own images with slenderman, it's possible that any one of them might come after you for copyright infringement because images in your game look too much like their's. Unless your artist draws a near-exact duplicate of an existing picture, this would be a hard case for the plaintiff to win because there is so much other slenderman content out there.

A defense to a copyright claim is "independent creation." This means that if I wrote a story that is similar to another published book and I can prove that I never read or heard anything about that other book, I have not violated copyright law. Thus, one way to protect yourself from copyright liability is to hire an artist that has no knowledge of what slenderman is, amass some reference images that either have an appropriate Creative Commons license or you have permission to use and provide these to your artist. Be sure to document everything thoroughly.

Note also that characters like this are often protected by trademark as well as copyright, however, with Trademarks. In the US, "The Slender Man" is a registered trademark of DC visionaries, which is apparently unrelated to DC comics. Here, having a registered TM does not necessarily mean that the TM is valid.

Finally, note that a number of law schools in the US have clinics that provide free or low-cost legal assistance to small businesses and creators, some of these focus on intellectual property law. One that comes to mind is at the California Western School of Law, and there are also others. Looking into getting help from one of these would be a good idea if you seriously intend to market your game with the Slenderman theme. There is no substitute for legal advice from a licensed attorney.

talmorgoth
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Joined: 02/03/2011
Lawyers for the Creative Arts

I work for an employment and labor law firm, and in response to my many annoying questions to them about Trademark and IP laws they have responded with this gem that I now pass on to you all.

"The best way to find specialized advice at little to no cost is to register with Lawyers for the Creative Arts and submit his questions to them (http://www.law-arts.org/). They're a local resource and should be able to set him up with a volunteer attorney who knows gaming."

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