Video game development caution

Developing a video game? Be careful about the characters you pick. The insurance answer is that there is a chance you will get sued, if you create characters in your new video game, that too closely resemble well-known sports figures or celebrities.

Even if you do not use that person's name, if the virtual character is of the same weight, hair colour, skin tone and has strong similarities of style, then you could be exploiting that person.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), has rules which prevent athletes from using their professional image. The latest lawsuits are challenging the courts, for the right to control the use of the athlete's image.

There was a successful suit November 2008, regarding the right to profit from their likenesses, which included a group of retired National Football League (NFL) players, who sued their union. The union allowed Electronic Arts to use their identities in Madden NFL, without compensation to the players. The award for the more than 2,000 retired players was $28.1 million. This was reduced to $26.25 million in a settlement.

The lawsuit for the college athletes has a great impact, because of the third party (EA) profiting from their amateur athletics. Since college athletes cannot be paid outright, any compensation would have to be something such as payment for graduate education, or any payments made being put into a trust.

It will be an interesting case to watch develop. The NCAA has three different video games, that have licensing agreements with EA - NCAA March Madness, NCAA Football, and NCAA Basketball.

Celebrities have had successful complaints against unauthorized use of their image. The lesson here is, if you are developing a video game, then be careful that you have received permission, and set up a royalty agreement, if you wish to depict a known sports figure or other celebrity.

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