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Legality of a "parody" game

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mikedrys's picture
Joined: 11/13/2008

I have designed a game based around the iPhone/iPod Touch, the app store, and such things. I was just wondering about the theme. I've considered creating my own generic cell phone/personal media player for the game and I've also considered making it a parody of the iPhone, possibly calling it iTuneUp and making it look like an iPhone and the app store, etc. I've read/heard that parody (without permission) is legal. Would I have to worry in this situation? Or would it be better to go with the generic idea instead?
Thanks in advance

Joined: 02/06/2009
Parody itself is legal. But

Parody itself is legal. But you might have trouble with the little i. Considering how many different products they have made with the prefix, its probably a trademark. I'm no lawyer, but I think the key to parody is to make it as obvious as possible. Also, you want to make sure to have all your own images.

iTuneUp sounds like something Apple might actually make.
I'd go with meFone by Pear, meFone Feely, and the crApp store.

Also parody is protected as political speech. So if the game doesn't highlight the problems with these devices or otherwise make fun of them, it won't fly. In that case, I would go generic.

Willi B
Joined: 07/28/2008

how about the uphone and upod?

Joined: 12/15/2009
Err on the safe side

You don't say which country you live in or where the game would be distributed. In the UK, copyright law does not recognise parody as fair dealing, so you can't just copy big chunks of a song (or film) to parody it without the copyright holder's permission.

To be sure you were covered internationally, you'd have to consult a professional advisor in international intellectual property law. Maybe better just to err on the safe side?

Joined: 07/26/2008
You can trademark letters of

You can trademark letters of the alphabet, now?

(More seriously - I don't think iWhatever is trademarked, given the iPlayer is the BBC's. But well worth checking this sort of thing out with a legal adviser beforehand. Standard 'I Am Not A Lawyer' disclaimer applies.)

Joined: 04/22/2010
Some Advice

First, I'm not a lawyer, etc... I am however a law student, taking the bar in a few months, in the US. So, if you as well are asking primarily for parody fair use information in the US, I can maybe add a bit of insight.

Firstly, iTuneUp ... very bad name, you'll be hit with a lawsuit as soon as they discover it. Specially considering the fact that a product already exists called iTunes.

Secondly, a parody, to qualify must satisfy several elements;
(1) The context in which the work is used; must be transformative (must add something to the original, of a different character). Or it must comment on the original, as stated above. If it merely mimics the original, or copies the original in a funny way, it may be classified as a "satire" and thus making you liable.
(2) Courts look at the nature of the work; and provide more protection to the copyright holder for creative works, and less for functional works. So if you're parodying the functional elements of the iPhone, you have a better chance of success.
(3) Amount and substantially of work used. You don't want to take too much of the iPhone and copy it; ie, you should only take enough of the work as to allow people to identify that which you are parodying, sometimes this can mean 100% of the item, and sometimes it can mean less than 1%. It is a fact based test on how much is really needed of the original to pull off the parody.
(4) The last thing to look at is the effect on the market. If you product will shift income from the iPhone to your product, courts frown highly on that. If your product merely critically comments on the iPhone thus reducing consumer interest, you will be fine. But I'd avoid making a parody that's sole purpose is to convince people to buy your product instead of buying an iPhone.

Again, these comments are merely the observations of a Law Student, in the midst of studying for his Copyright exam ;-) So, if you have further questions or concerns, I'd recommend consulting a Copyright attorney, specially before you invest large sums of money into this project.


infocorn's picture
Joined: 07/30/2008
A can of fruit a**....

I think MrMystery's on the right track.

"u" is a good start as is "pear." Maybe thesaurus around with "pod" and see what sticks out. "uBean" might be an interesting one. "My" is taken; The Simpsons use "MyPod" and "Mapple." I think Banana is also out, as it was an old (and I mean like OLD-- Mac II maybe) parody in the comic strip Bloom County. Berries might also conjure images of Blackberry, but it might also give you more to work with. If you went with a fruit salad approach, you could hit all the Mac iGarbage and touchscreen stuff in one fell swoop, thus hedging your bets against just targeting Mac.

Aside from the legality stuff, and as a (::takes a moment to put a big ol' target on himself::) 100% Mac Despiser, I can't wait to see what you come up with.

PS: Not "Steve Jobs" but maybe "Liev Works?" Huh? huh? Meh. And "Schnoz" instead of "Woz." William Doors? Anyone? Is this thing on?

Taavet's picture
Joined: 08/15/2008
Is there a doctor in the house?

C'mon guys. Why do you think we post questions asking for legal advise?

Who is the designated BGDF Lawyer? We NEED an answer!! LOL.

Sounds like you guys pretty much already covered it.

As the non-designated not-a-lawyer on BGDF, I would recommend getting the game accepted by a publisher or making all of your plans to self publish and then worry about it. If the publisher accepts it then they will deal with the legalities and if you self publish then somewhere along that process get a hold of a lawyer or just research it out to see which laws apply to your specific product.

Good luck!

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