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How much can I theme a game after copyrighted material?

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harmon89's picture
Joined: 01/13/2016

I've always been a fan of the Chronicles of Narnia, and I was thinking about a game that borrows some concepts from that world.

So my question is how far am I legally allowed to take an idea that is based off of someone else's work? I'm assuming I couldn't have the word Narnia anywhere in the game, but can certain concepts be included in the game that are uniquely a part of that universe.

For example, in one of the books there is a place called "The Wood Between The Worlds." Would I be allowed to have a location titled that in my game that is based off that location in the book, or would that be an infringement?

polyobsessive's picture
Joined: 12/11/2015
Probably OK but IANAL

I am not a lawyer.

Everything I have ever read on the subject says that you can't protect a general concept as intellectual property. You can copyright the expression of an idea, trademark particular words, phrases or images, and patent mechanisms and inventions, but the general idea is something that is just "out there".

Art is based so heavily on people reusing ideas and themes from each other that if that was cracked down on, nothing new would ever be created.

So if you wanted to create a new work based on a magical world which mirrors our own in many ways, but where time moves at a different rate to ours and the worlds are connected via portals that are linked to objects or locations in one or both of them, then, hell, I'm sure that has been done many times other than by CS Lewis.

If you added a form of deity who manifested as a large carnivore and gave guidance to visiting children who grew old in the magical world before returning to their own to find that hardly any time had passed there, then you would almost certainly be fine, but you could rightly be criticised for unoriginality.

If you "borrowed" the odd location from a work like the Narnia books you would similarly almost certainly be fine, especially if you are borrowing something that is sufficiently generic and it is not your only source.

But as I said, I am not a lawyer. You are probably fine, but if you are really concerned, you should pay some money to someone who really knows what they are talking about.

Joined: 11/19/2012
It all depends. Thing about

It all depends. Thing about copyrights is that they extend as far as the owner wishes for them to reach.

Some owners will only going after blatant rip offs that are actively taking money from them... while other owners will go after the usage of the word "Space Marine". How far is illegal much directly depends on how protective the owners are and how much they invest in prosecuting.

As for using an area based on the books, I'd say just keep it generic enough that it could be your own creation. While not common, I have seen lawsuits come from direct homages to popular IPs. Having a similar Ice Forest is one thing... having an area named and/or populated like it is playing with fire.

The other thing to remember is that your bigger threat right now will be public opinion. Legality doesn't matter if players feel that your product took too much from Narnia without giving it credit. (And giving it credit gives more power to the copyright owners)

Honestly, it's all variable. I usually use the line of reasoning that "If I'm worried about it... it's too much"

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