Legality of using modified celebrity names?

I am having trouble finding anything about this topic. So just thought I would ask here.

I am trying to find out if using a parody of celebrity names is going to get me in trouble :),
My characters don’t represent a human form of any kind.

Some examples would be.

-Dennis Miller / Dennis Killer
-Hillary Clinton / Pillary Clinton

I think the answer is its not a good idea, But just want to know if anyone knows more on the subject.

I think as long as your character doesn’t look like its unofficial namesake … you might be okay. I am no legal expert however so please don’t quote me on that. Cartoonists can get away with depicting real people in paradoxical situations and they sometimes get away with and sometimes not.

It would probably depend on the country of origin and what you are making these people do or how you depict them.

Under most circumstances you will probably be asked to cease and desist … but some may sue you … so it becomes a legal minefield.

If I were you, I would consult a proper lawyer and get proper legal advice in this matter and not rely on hearsay or supposition. Good luck.

Generally you need a bit more name variance than just one letter, but including a parody of a real world figure is both normal and legal.

Ready 2 Rumble: 2 featured “Mr. President” and “First Lady” as a parody of then President Bill Clinton and his wife Hillary. While it had legal rights to using the name Michael Jackson who was mocap’d for the game which is why he appears in the game with his proper name.

If your characters don’t represent or reference real life people, it doesn’t matter. There’s probably hundreds, if not thousands, of people named Hilary Clinton in the United States. You can’t have a copyright or any sort of legal right to a name that common.

Yes, qdelpeche is right. You should get proper advice on this. Not only would you need to be in the right, you would open yourself to lawsuits, just to shut you up. You would have to fold, just because they can afford to fight a long lawsuit without even noticing, even if they go on to lose. You will not be in the same boat (unless your game sells massively :slight_smile: ).

You are incorrect.

Under US & many international trademark agreements you can trademark an name. Everyone from Michael Jackson to Bill Clinton to Sarah Palin have such trademarks. It is considered an International Class 035 Service trademark. The trademark denotes the services that this trademark is selling and is legally indistinguishable from all other trademarks of its class.

I think I saw a Steam basketball game that had names like Kobi Bryent and stuff, but I don’t know. You would think this would fall under parody or satire, but it all depends…

Here is the most recent article I could find about a scenario like this :

There are plenty of things that end up on Steam using illegal assets. I recall some tug-of-war style game that used assets modeled on 300 and took direct sound effects from the movie. Merely because a game does something does not mean it is doing it legally.

Plus there is always the consideration that perhaps they have the legal right to do so.

read up on the legal definitions of parody, satire, caricature, and fair use. Wiki will give you jumping off points

I was just thinking of making a 2d platformer game, called tornado the beaver, will that get me into trouble with sonic, crash, ratchet and clank? unless i use new and different names and looks and story line for my character and gameplay.
Wait hold on a minute, if what you guys are saying is true how come in grand theft auto they use real names, like king 50, ja rule, eminem, tupac, etc?

You know you can just ask for the right to use a name, might be you gonna pay for it. Then you are licensed to use the name in question.

Or they just say plain no, and if you yet do it, and the main focus is not parody of the person in question (most probably it isn’t), you get in severe trouble using the name.

One can assume GTA f.e. did license all real world stuff they use, unless you see in the news distribution gets forbidden because unlicensed usage etc pp… :wink:

Theres some strange rules here, for parody you can infringe copyright like saturday night live does and when that guy made the business called dumb starbucks to sell more coffee( I think he was shut down though)…I looked into it for games and it seems like there would be issues but as you can see for some cases the comedy protects them, its the sort of thing you would want to have good legal counsel for

what about?

harrison jones does not depict a real person, and whole of the work is not about that char

so would it be legal to call my beaver character, tornado the beaver? or is that not allowed?

So long as he is a distinct character it doesn’t matter that people might see allusions to Sonic the Hedgehog. If the character’s likeness was too similar then Sega may sue. But, there are hundreds of anthromorphic animal protagonists so you’ll be fine as long as Tornado is a distinct character in his own right.

on its own sure, but paired with game play or other IP elements you begin to skirt the line of infringement. you can also cross the line with the ‘look and feel’ so make sure the character, and its abilities are are unique

I’m not a lawyer, but just looking at the industry it’s easy to see a few guidelines. As long as you aren’t using their actual name and/or physical likeness, you generally are okay. For example, the NCAA and EA just lost the lawsuit filed by Ed O’Bannon regarding using players likenesses, because they were using the players faces.

Games like World of Warcraft on the other hand, use parodies like “Haris Pilton” (, a blonde female blood elf who sells fashionable bags. Where you get into a grey area is GTA V with Lindsay Lohan type situations, because you have to remember, in the US all you need is a lawyer willing to file a lawsuit to get the process started, no matter how silly the lawsuit may be.

So if you aim for the Blizzard approach, you’ll be fine, if you aim for the EA or Rockstar Approach, you could find yourself in some hot water down the road. Frankly, I’d concentrate on making a fun game first before worrying about using parody celebrities.