We have already written about the conditions under which the likeness of real-life people can be used in a game. But what if a game developer wants to use the likeness of a deceased person, or make an avatar look like a deceased person, e.g. a dead celebrity (aka “deleb”) or historical figure? After all, obtaining the person’s consent is impossible. So can the likeness of a dead person be used freely? In this article, we point out what rules a game developer should follow to ensure they are legally on safe ground.
The likeness of natural persons is protected on various grounds. In the Polish legal system, it is protected first of all under the Copyright Act, but also under the Civil Code as a personal rights. What does this mean for video game developers?
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Sometimes, a character in a game evokes an association with a real person. This similarity may be intentional or accidental. To ensure they are on solid legal ground, game developers should obtain the consent of the actual person to use his or her image. Failure to do so can result in severe consequences. In this text, we will discuss the rules for using likenesses of real, living people.
What is a likeness?
A person’s likeness refers to someone’s image, recorded for example in a drawing, painting or photograph, as well as the way a person is perceived and portrayed. Contrary to popular belief, likeness does not refer only to an image of a person’s face. It encompasses a range of personal characteristics, including natural features (e.g. eye shape), elements of characterisation or clothing (e.g. glasses, hairstyle, makeup, accessories), and even voice, deportment, behaviour, gestures or characteristic sayings. Thus, the likeness of a person is constructed of his or her recognisable features, by which we distinguish this person from others. Do you recognise the people pictured below? Just in case, the answer is given in the footnote1.
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In previous articles in our series we discussed whether data can be subject to property rights or can be protected within known categories of intangibles. Today we will consider if and when data can be protected as a trade secret.
First we should clarify what a trade secret is and what protection this classification provides.
Trade secrets: When is protection provided?
Under Polish law, issues relating to the protection of trade secrets are mainly regulated by the Unfair Competition Act of 16 April 1993. At the European level, the Trade Secrets Directive (2016/943) has harmonised the protection of trade secrets to some extent.
The subject of the discussion below will be “trade secrets” (tajemnica przedsiębiorstwa), and not “business confidentiality” (tajemnica przedsiębiorcy) as referred to in Art. 5(2) of the Act on Access to Public Information of 6 September 2001. Judgments issued under that act indicate that in certain situations “business confidentiality” may be understood more broadly than “trade secrets” within the meaning of the Unfair Competition Act, and also includes information which has no economic value as such but the disclosure of which could have a significant impact on the undertaking’s economic situation and competitiveness (Supreme Administrative Court judgments of 17 January 2020, case no. I OSK 3514/18, and 5 July 2013, case no. I OSK 511/13).
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We are launching a series of articles on the data economy. We use this term to refer collectively to new models of the economy in which the principal role is played by data. Data are becoming an asset in their own right which is more and more often the subject of commercial exchange. This doesn’t mean only personal data. It also, or even primarily, means non-personal data of all sorts, including those generated or gathered by machines, whose value we are only beginning to discover.
We were spurred to develop a series of texts on this topic by the more and more frequently encountered question “Who owns data?” We hear this from clients, tech firms, and startups. Under the surface of this seemingly trivial question lurks the essence of the legal challenges connected with the data economy. It turns out that the legal status of data is not always obvious and it cannot easily be determined who owns data or what is the substance of rights to data.
We would like to expose some sensitive areas where the law does not yield the desired answers to fundamental questions about the rules of the data economy. Along the way, we will attempt to systematise the existing regulations, to determine to what extent they could apply to data.
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When the concept for a video game takes shape, and an unprotected idea becomes a protected form of expression, the developer can consider how best to protect the game or elements of the game against copying by competitors. When thinking about legal protection of a video game, it is natural to refer to copyright law. But that is not the only potential source of protection. It is worth examining whether and to what extent elements of the game can be protected through industrial designs, patents, or perhaps trade secrets.
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This is one of the most often asked questions. The answer is difficult and equivocal. On one hand, a good idea is half the way to success. On the other hand, ideas are regarded as free and should not be monopolised, but a specific manner or form of expression of an idea can be the subject of copyright protection. However, drawing the line between an unprotected idea and a protected manner of expression is a difficult challenge that depends on the specific factual circumstances. First it must be determined what can be protected in a computer game, and then how these elements can best be protected.
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