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Likeness rights of celebrities - legalities?


air_raid
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I imagine some of you will have some knowledge about this. How far can you take using elements of a celebrity’s likeness before you have to worry, from a legal point of view, especially where profit is to be made?
 
There's a couple of examples from decades ago, and from now.
 
The original Japanese release of Street Fighter II had the boxer we call Balrog in the West, named M. Bison (with the dictator being named Vega and the matador being named Balrog). Looking at the characters design, he’s fairly obviously modelled after Mike Tyson. People have pointed out that his character is 6’6 as a suggestion that other boxers’ physiques might have been the inspiration, but Capcom were so wary of the boxer called M. Bison prompting legal action from M. Tyson that they changed the names for exporting the game to the States. Iron Mike didn’t become aware of this fact until 2019 and was quite chuffed to find out, by all accounts.
 
The same year that Street Fighter II came out, Tyson was also parodied in The Simpsons as Drederick Tatum, later managed by Lucious Sweet, a fairly transparent duplicate of Don King, although from the mouth of Homer, existing in a world in which King also exists. I’m fairly confused as to where the line is for needing permission to use a persons likeness (or indeed, name), and sometimes it seems like all is fair in the name of humour – but that can’t be true, can it?
 
More recently, I’m a big fan of Jim’ll Paint It on Twitter, and he sells his work as prints and on t-shirts. Without getting into IP rights (his work involves many characters from popular fiction especially film and TV), there are loads of pieces for sale with fairly obvious depictions of politicians and celebrities from popular culture. Am I to assume he just has to hope that a Donald Trump, Boris Johnson, Teresa May, Nicola Sturgeon, Piers Morgan etc doesn’t stumble upon his site and notice their likeness being used for profit?
 
I’ve had a little read about it and it seems a bit of a grey area, in my line of work I encounter lots of ripping off of both likenesses of real people and fictional IP that’s swept under the rug in the name of “parody” but there are quite a few instances I’ve read up on from video games and other media where the person who’s had their image “parodied” has sued and won damages from the party using their likeness without permission. I’m guess I’m wondering where the line is. How different does something have to be from its source inspiration to viewed legally “OK”?
 
For instance - if you wanted to create a platformer where the central sprite was a diminutive football player fairly obviously inspired by Lionel Messi but named Goat or Wizard, where would you stand? What if you changed the stripes on his shirt to purple and orange or the colour of his hair?
 
I should make it clear – I’m not interested in creating anything myself, I’m just wondering where the legal line is.
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I think it depends how it falls under being satire, fair use or parody. As far as your Drederick Taterum example goes, that’s a parody of a real life person. They don’t hide that Tatetum is obviously based on Tyson, same as you mentioned about Lucious Sweet being based on Don King.

If in that episode Tatetum was the son of a promoter called Mike Ty and he were to arrange a fight between his son and Homer, that’s a different thing altogether as your using a (admittedly very poor) pun alongside the celebrity’s likeness.

I can’t remember which film it’s in, but Jon Bon Jovi was playing a rockstar, essentially himself, but he had a fictitious name. The person I was watching the film with asked “that’s clearly just him being Bon Jovi, why don’t they just call him Bon Jovi?”. In that instance, I believe that the studio would’ve had to pay whoever Bon Jovi were signed to at the time as they own the band’s rights. But Jon Bon Jovi playing a role of someone else, who by coincidence just happens to be similar to him, gives them a legal out.

I reckon a lot of it depends on how much a person may be profiting from someone’s likeness. Some might not see it as worth taking somebody to court over it as it’ll probably cost as much to do so as for anything they might win from it, while others may be extremely protective of what they see as theirs, such as an image, a logo or whatever. 

Edited by WyattSheepMask
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54 minutes ago, air_raid said:

The same year that Street Fighter II came out, Tyson was also parodied in The Simpsons as Drederick Tatum, later managed by Lucious Sweet, a fairly transparent duplicate of Don King, although from the mouth of Homer, existing in a world in which King also exists. I’m fairly confused as to where the line is for needing permission to use a persons likeness (or indeed, name), and sometimes it seems like all is fair in the name of humour – but that can’t be true, can it?

'murica has some very loose rules regarding the presentation of parodies as fair use, even if they are done for profit. Probably the best wrestling examples would have to be the Huckster & Nacho Man by the WWF, "Oklahoma" in WCW as well as the Blue World Order in ECW.

Edit: Just to add with the Simpsons theme, you can add Rainier Wolfcastle being a blatant parody of Arnold Schwarznegger.

Edited by PJ Power
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It's a mish mash of many many different laws and, to be honest, it's a minefield. The Jim'll paint it / Ultimate warrior one came down to not just the likeness but also it was very obviously based on a specific photo which someone owns the rights to.

 

At it's most basic:

You have the right to your own likeness

You have the right to sell or lease use of your likeness for profit

You have the right to defend use of your likeness if someone is profiting or using it for something that you disagree with, or in a way that would cost you money however....

Characters, even copyrighted ones can be used freely if it falls under parody, mainly in the US, EU laws are slightly different. Trademarks can not. Best example is any of the XXX 'parody' films where every logo is removed to avoid a lawsuit yet the characters remain. This is mainly for fictional characters but also works for real people

Transformative: If the work is transformative or offers commentary then your likeness can be used. A basic example would be the Marilyn Monroe Andy Warhol pop art, Jim'll Paint it or Cold War Steve 

With Mike Tyson it also comes down to people having to enforce their copyright and any loss that may occur with other people using it. Old arguments like 'Oh Disney sue everyone' are legitimate but if a company actively know someone is using their property and dont attempt to enforce it, then it can go against them in future cases. This would be the same if someone at the time had paid Tyson to use his name and likeness in computer games, I'd guess specifically in North America. If Capcom found out about this then they knew it would probably be enforced / attempted to be enforced which could have an impact on any releases. I'd bet money on the fact that Mike Tyson's Intergalactic Power Punch was due out the following year through Nintendo was the main reason.

With the simpsons reference. Making a parody character = fine, releasing Drederick Tatum boxing as a game = not fine, as it could be argued it would create confusion with an existing license and cost them money and damage the value of their 'brand' 

 

 

 

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yeah, Power Punch 2 was released in 1992, and Street Fighter 2 in '91 (and home release '92), so I would agree that the most likely explanation is that Capcom were aware that Nintendo had a deal with Mike Tyson that would complicate things legally.

It definitely all comes down to money and grounds for confusion - is the way you're using someone's image implying that they support an organisation or a belief that they disagree with, or risking confusing consumers into buying something because of an assumed endorsement?

Around the time Batman vs. Superman came out, I was working at Jersey Zoo, where Henry Cavill was one of our celebrity ambassadors. One of the marketing bods had the bright idea of naming a newborn bat "Ben" and doing some marketing fluff that implied a connection to Ben Affleck, because of the Batman/Superman connection via Cavill. We had Affleck's legal team on us within a day, because the implication was that Ben Affleck was supporting or endorsing our work.

 

On the Street Fighter front, is this a complete Mandela Effect moment for me, or were there any arcade versions of Street Fighter ever released, or previewed, in the UK where the names weren't switched?  Because I swear as a kid I always knew M.Bison as Vega, and found it confusing when the name was suddenly different. I wouldn't have played it much - just in arcades once in a blue moon - so it may have come from something like Gamesmaster, or screenshots in a magazine, but I definitely knew him as Vega before I knew him as M.Bison. 

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3 hours ago, BomberPat said:

On the Street Fighter front, is this a complete Mandela Effect moment for me, or were there any arcade versions of Street Fighter ever released, or previewed, in the UK where the names weren't switched?  Because I swear as a kid I always knew M.Bison as Vega, and found it confusing when the name was suddenly different. I wouldn't have played it much - just in arcades once in a blue moon - so it may have come from something like Gamesmaster, or screenshots in a magazine, but I definitely knew him as Vega before I knew him as M.Bison. 

I seem to recall a few knockoff type Street Fighter arcade games in shopping malls and so on that had the names as you mention. I distinctly remember one version, I think it may have been called Rainbow Edition, where the special sliding punch Balrog/M.Bison did was accompanied by two Hadoken-style balls of flame.

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The Baltog/Vega/Bison (Boxer, Claw, & Dictator as they're known in the FGC at large) thing gets further muddied when you discover that Boxer (as M. Bison) was "supposed" to be the character known as Mike from the original Street Fighter (which Capcom keep trying to pretend to refute in case Iron Mike does start feeling letigious) to the point that Street Fighter 5 has a costume for Boxer called "Mike-Like" which is the costume Mike from your original Street Fighter wears, and has a storyline in the Street Fighter 1 arcade ladder where they declare Mike the winner of the original tournament, much to Boxer's fury). Once the name swap came along they declared that Mike & Boxer were actually separate characters. 

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2 hours ago, David said:

I seem to recall a few knockoff type Street Fighter arcade games in shopping malls and so on that had the names as you mention. I distinctly remember one version, I think it may have been called Rainbow Edition, where the special sliding punch Balrog/M.Bison did was accompanied by two Hadoken-style balls of flame.

Rainbow is absolutely special. Most characters have specials launch a half dozen Hadoukens. It’s an acid trip of a fighter.

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No, Nintendo did slap a cease and desist against Giana sisters. It managed to get a sequel/reboot on modern consoles. 

@DavidRainbow Edition, Red Wave edition and the other ROMhacks are what led to Capcom release Street Fighter II Turbo. They also tried to sue Data East over gimmick infringement when Fighters History came out because of how similar a lot of their characters were to the ones in Street Fighter II. Data East won by referring to the time they tried to sue Archer McLean and System 3 over International Karate because it had a guy in a white gi fighting a guy in a red gi like in Karate Champ. In that case the judge said you Data East can't claim copyright over the idea of fighting in videogames just because you've got a bloke in white having a fight with a bloke in red. At which point the floodgates opened and we got all kinds of knockoffs.

Capcom could possibly have gone after SNK over Art Of Fighting because of the way Ryo Sakazaki was such an obvious knockoff of Ryu. Instead they got revenge by creating Dan. Ryo's body, Robert Garcia's head and Yuri Skazaki's win poses. 

Edited by jazzygeofferz
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