If I want to create a video game with historical figures like Napoleon or Pythagoras, do I need licenses for their likenesses?

I know for example that sports games like Madden or NCAA Football require some sort of licensing agreement with the players' associations. Just was curious if that applied to world-historical figures who died a long time ago as well... Thank you for your time.

San Francisco, CA -

Attorney Answers (4)

Michael Charles Doland

Michael Charles Doland

Business Attorney - Los Angeles, CA
Answered

No, not necessary.

The above is general legal and business analysis. It is not "legal advice" but analysis, and different lawyers may... more
Andrew Mark Jaffe

Andrew Mark Jaffe

Internet Lawyer - Akron, OH
Answered

No

This post is provided for general informational purposes only and is not intended to be legal advice specific to... more
Frank Anthony Natoli

Frank Anthony Natoli

Internet Lawyer - New York, NY
Answered

The legal issue here is that when you use someone's likeness or image this may be violating that person's right to privacy and publicity. These are state causes of action and each state has a different take on how they apply this protection. For example, some only protect celebrities or public figures, others protect anyone and still others will extend protection to dead people.

That said, even those states that protect dead people will only do so for a limited amount of time (generally no more than up to 10 years after death) and certainly historical figures like you noted would not be protected anymore.

You still need to make sure that you are not violating anyone's copyright interest however by using, for example, an image of some figure that is really a artistic work or graphic that is currently protected under copyright laws.

You may want to consult a lawyer in private before you jump in just so you can explain your objectives in more detail and go over some of the many other legal considerations involved here such as business formation, trademark, copyright, terms of use, etc.

Best regards,
Frank
Natoli-Lapin, LLC

DISCLAIMER: this is not intended to be specific legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. No attorney-... more
Daniel Gary Rosenthal

Daniel Gary Rosenthal

Internet Lawyer
Answered

Frank Natoli's answer is correct -- the short version is no, the likenesses of these historical figures would not require licenses but you can get caught up by accidentally using copyrighted material (so make sure the quotes you are using come from the actual subject and not Civ V!)

I focus my practice on (video) gaming industry, casino gambling, and complex internet law issues, electronic free... more

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