What is the law on using famous people in a board game? 1 Answers as of May 09, 2017

I want to make a board game depicting political figures. It will have the likeness of them and related events that have taken place. Will I be sued for using them in the game?

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Lawyer for Independent Media | Sue Basko
There are three major areas of law that come into play in your game scenario. The first is copyright. You must own the copyright on any pictures you use. You would have to have artists create pictures of each person that are not based on photos or works from anyone else. The second area of law is defamation. If the characters you use are all public figures, such as all presidents or presidential candidates, then the bar for defamation is quite high, but it still exists. You game cannot tell lies that are damaging. If you paid attention, you would have noticed that Melania Trump sued The Daily Mail because the news outlet claimed that Mrs. Trump's modeling career was not just about modeling. The parties settled the case. With the people who are currently involved in politics, you should not have to make up any stories, since the reality is interesting enough. The third area of law is the right of publicity. This is not federal law, but are different laws in different states. In a nutshell, the laws make it a tort to make commercial use of any person's name or image without their permission. A game you sell is commercial use. Every one of these laws is different. Does Donald Trump want you to use his name and image to sell your game? Probably not. Will he sue you? Maybe. If the game is basically a satire or parody, you might have a First Amendment Fair Use defense to the right of publicity claim. In fact, making the game strong satire or parody will assist your defense in any claims. Avoid anything lewd or vulgar, too, since such misuses usually will undo any defenses you might otherwise have.
Answer Applies to: California
Replied: 5/9/2017
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