movie and tv references

Started by Seamus, December 19, 2009, 12:37:49 PM

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I know this subject has been addressed before. But I am working on the final edits of our next book and wanted to get some peoples' thoughts on the subject again.

We are putting out a Mafia role playing game (within the next couple of months). The game is all done, and I am just doing some finishing touches. I've tried to expand our treatment of mafia movie themes and character types in the GM section. To do this, I make reference to specific characters from mafia movies and shows (Tony Soprano, Michael Corleone, Henry Hill,etc). So I will say something like "Betrayal is an unforgiveable crime. In Goodfellas, the protagonist (Henry Hill) turns against his former bosses, to save his own life." and "Dirty cops, corrupt politicians and fallen heroes are staples of the genre. In the Godfather Trilogy we witness the moral corruption of Michael Corleone, culminating in the murder of his own brother." Stuff like that. This is kosher, right?

Bedrock Games


The most common response here is usually: TALK TO A LAWYER!

Its just good advice and the best thing to say in a situation like this. A lawyer could tell you for sure whether you are infringing on someone's intellectual property and whether copyright law allows for one-shot comments like the ones you're suggesting.

Personally, if I didn't know for sure and didn't want to seek legal advice (which I do know for sure) then I would avoid it altogether. If there is a way to create your own examples without using someone's fictional characters then I would do that.

Good Luck,


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Jasper Flick

Making references to other stuff is fine. Talking about other stuff is fine. A little quote is fine too. Copying big chunks is not.
Basically, everything you'd say in normal discourse is fine. Talking/writing about something is fine. Making false claims is not.
Really, nobody's gonna sue you for referencing a movie or writing a three-sentence summary of it.
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Ron Edwards

Hi Seamus,

The best way to address this question is simply to see what others have done. The inquiry "Is it all right to ..." is basically not answerable, because "all right" or "kosher" or "OK" or "safe" or whatever isn't a concrete thing. But you can get a real perspective on the actual landscape of what others have done, and what has happened, and then make your own decisions.

In my books, I have extensively referenced, quoted from, and sometimes summarized a great deal of fiction and film, exactly in the way you've described. I have encountered absolutely no objections from the authors or publishers or estates. In the few occasions when I've inquired, for instance regarding works and interviews by John le Carré, the response has always been "Go ahead, that use does not violate anything."

Everyone else: I ask that we restrict the responses to straightforward descriptions of what you, as a publisher have quoted and referenced, and any consequences you've experienced, including "none." Please do not provide advice, generalizations, attempts to describe the laws, or speculations about what would or will happen.

Also, Seamus, rather than consult a lawyer, I recommend learning a bit about the laws, which are far less restrictive than many people seem to think. There are a number of links in the sticky post at the top of this thread to help you do that.

Best, Ron


Thanks. Checking out the links now. I figure what I am doing is stuff I have seen in other games (I know for example I have seen other games give a complete history of a movie genre).
Bedrock Games

Eero Tuovinen

I always do this sort of thing without hesitation. My zombie game rules text begins with "the intent of this game is to aid the players in creating and expressing a zombie movie story arc reminiscent of George Romero's seminal Night of the Living Dead." (The Finnish version does, at least - can't remember how I phrased that in the English.) Similarly my Solar System and TSoY writing has made ample mention of well-known literary properties, which I often use as comparisons and examples when making points of narratological nature. I have had no problems with either of these cases.

Also, a small reductio ad absurdum for those reading along at home: if we could not mention and discuss prior art in writing, how could we have a culture in the first place? Every web forum, newspaper and talk show everywhere would be violating such a law to begin with. Simple reason already dictates that even if you personally know nothing about laws, apparently all those art critics, authors and such must have some censure-breaking gizmo tucked in their back rooms for them to function at all. Therefore, even for somebody who knows nothing about the relevant laws, it is actually logically necessary for there to exist a way to discuss culture in a legitimate way. Learning about the pertinent laws from your local government then actually tells you how and what is allowed within this wide purview of freedom of expression, shared by all civilized countries to begin with.
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In my game, The Holmes and Watson Committee I included a couple from "The Red Headed League" by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.  These were strictly for illustrative puposes for actual play.  Print is a little different from movies and TV, and in this case, the stories of Sherlock Holmes by Doyle are public domain.  However, I have found the US copyright law website to be helful.  Here is a link to their section on Fair Use.