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For phone games, can my own sketches of a copyrighted image avoid my own downfall?

Is Taylor Swift a ruthless legal vulture with Indiana Jones - Temple of Doom fiery-ruby eyes?

just kidding :)

In my phone game, I'd like to have pics/icons of everyday objects (sketches) in scenes for a points collection aspect. (and for level advancements)

If I do my own black and white sketches from images I find of Taylor Swift, or Metallica or Jimi Hendrix, or even an elephant, television, car, or an outline of Bolivia, cobweb..

What legal nightmares might I be heading into? Are original outlines of copyrighted images, or close interpretations (my own outlines) of them a path to the guillotine?
Is there a good way in photoshop to generate an amazingly creative approximation of a picture?

For an elephant, I might want icons something like this :

elephant icon
or of Jimi

Jimi Hendrix icon
or Taylor

Watch Question

If you use somebody else's likeness (no matter who creates it - you or somebody else) in your product without their permission, they can come after you for that.    It's the fact that it's in a product (something you're looking to make even $1 from) that causes you to be in jeopardy.  That's the difference between you posting a selfie with Taylor on your instagram and you put that same selfie into your phone game.

But that's if you say "Taylor Swift" with an image you drew.  If you are using images that are similar, but not clearly identifiable as one person (i.e. it's a blond singer, but could be one of several people) then you should be fine because it's no longer an image of Taylor Swift.  But you're a good artist, so yours look pretty identifiable - which is a problem.  Even if you were walking a very careful line - close but not actually illegal, just being sued would cost you a fortune in legal fees, even if you won.  So don't push the envelope.

You can read more about the legal issue here:

There's of course no problem using an image of an elephant or other objects as long as you created them.  If you're just applying a photoshop filter to somebody else's art - that's a different issue and again you can run into more trouble.  In that case you'd be violating copyright law, which is a whole different matter.

From a practical standpoint if your game doesn't do well nobody will care.  But if it actually takes off, it will show up on somebody's radar and eventually they'll come calling and you don't want that to happen.

James HancockSelf Employed



That link is quite an eye-opener. It's basically a - dont-even-bother notice for the likenesses of big names.
I'm curious, how much would it cost to acquire Taylor's likeness, or for that matter, Cristiano Ronaldo or Hillary Clinton?
It probably escalates with brand-name magnitude. The cost of high-profile people must be quite something. ( exactly like in advertising)

If I were to use my own drawings of Winston Churchill or Babe Ruth or Charles Darwin, Shakespeare, Mona Lisa, the Sphinx, Venus de Milo, Nelson Mandela (deceased), Thomas Jefferson, would anyone care?
I suppose other things like the Golden Gate Bridge, Big Ben, Niagra Falls, Mount Rushmore, would fall into a scenery category and have no jeopardy associated w them?
How much it costs is of course a matter of negotiation and star power etc.  But we're talking anywhere from thousands to hundreds of thousands (depending on the person and how their likeness is used - are they listed as promoting the product or just featured in it etc.).  It also depends on if your game will be downloaded by 10 people or 1.2 billion.

I don't think dead people will sue you.  Technically a descendant could sue as part of their estate, so somebody recently dead could still be an issue.  But somebody long dead (Churchill, Shakespeare) should be fine.  And actually public figures (like Churchill) might be different anyway, because their public status is different from Taylor Swift's (who is public due to her actions, not due to the role - like being PM of England) so you might have a better chance to win a lawsuit against Churchill's heirs if one showed up :)  But if you're looking to push the envelope, it's time to talk to an intellectual property lawyer (which I'm not!).

Scenery is totally fine.  As long as it's your art of that scenery.  Mount Rushmore, Big Ben all fair game.

Scenery is totally fine.  As long as it's your art of that scenery.  Mount Rushmore, Big Ben all fair game.

If you create it yourself, yes. But if you reproduce someone else’s depiction, you would be liable to copyright infringement. That’s infringement of that person’s work - nothing to do with the subject itself.
James HancockSelf Employed