I've been developing a video game for some time now. The game takes place inside a real-life, privately owned restaurant. The game art style is more realistic than anything. Just about everything is the same, from the tables and chairs, to wall color and architecture etc. – just about an exact replica. Coming from a customer service point of view, some objectives in the game would make the restaurant look bad.

What can I do to make sure I don't get into any trouble?

PS: Based on what the game is about, I highly doubt the owners will give permission.

Should I simply give the restaurant a different name?
Should I feature the restaurant in a different city than where it really resides?

What if I mirrored all of the architecture to be backwards like how people "Mirror" copyrighted video on youtube?

Any suggestions would be appreciated. I've put a whole lot of time into this project.

  • As a general note, you CAN be sued by just about anyone, for nearly any reason. Whether or not that suit is dismissed by the court is another matter. Realistically, though, I'd worry about using the company's name and any other items that might be considered trademarks of the company / restaurant that you're setting your video game in.
    – schizoid04
    Jun 7 '17 at 3:40
  • So possibly, things like the type of food, color schemes and such? Jun 7 '17 at 4:04
  • Things like individually named items on a menu that might be specifically associated with that corporation / entity, logo's, etc. I mean, it's hard to say someone is infringing on your rights because their artwork pictured a chair. It's easy if it's a chair that you've designed as part of your company's image. If there's something that can be identified as a trademark or even something that you think someone would recognize as being similar / belonging to that company, I'd recommend changing it, just to be safe
    – schizoid04
    Jun 7 '17 at 4:19
  • 1
    As a (somewhat comical) reference, have you ever seen a tv series or movie with a fake / parody restaurant of McDonalds or Burger King? They usually have a different name, differentiated logo's, etc. These usually skirt as close as they can to infringement without reaching the point that they'd be liable (As far as I know). But definitely wait for an answer from someone who can cite a reliable source here.
    – schizoid04
    Jun 7 '17 at 4:23
  • Yes exactly!! I was thinking I could use "Parody law" Like Nathan Fielder and his "Dumb" Starbucks. hahaha Jun 7 '17 at 4:45

Short answer


Everything you want to do is completely illegal. Consider the time you have invested so far a learning experience. Very little of your work will be salvageable.

You need to start over pretty much from scratch with an original visual and musical pallet only vaguely inspired by the original. If you don't, you will be sued for many, many different reasons and lose.

Longer answer

Intellectual Property Problems

There are multiple intellectual property-like problems with your plan.

  • If you use any registered trademarks (or unregistered claimed of trademark designed with the superscript "TM" by the restaurant) you are probably looking for trouble.

  • If the architecture or anything in the restaurant is protected by copyright or a design patent, you are looking for trouble.

  • The restaurant can probably claim "trade dress" protections of its "look and feel" to the extent that those elements are a consistent part of the restaurant's image and is distinctive.

  • If individuals in the game correspond to individuals in real life from whom you have not received permission, you are probably engaged in tortious violation of that person's right of publicity.

  • If you use music used in the restaurant without permission in the game, this is probably a violation of somebody's copyright unless you obtain a license (or statutory license for covers of music copyrighted by someone else).

  • If you are a former employee of the restaurant, there may also be contractual limitations in disclosures of elements that are considered "trade secrets".

Tort Law Problems

In addition to intellectual property issues, there is a good chance that if the correspondence between the real restaurant and your game is close enough, and the game displays the restaurant in a negative light (perhaps partially due to video game hyperbole) that you will be sued (quite possibly successfully) for defamation, for "injurious falsehood", or for the tort of "false light" (if that privacy tort has been adopted in a state where the game is sold).

Bottom Line: You Are Screwed If You Proceed

Basically, if you can't obtain permission, it is a really bad idea to proceed according to your original plan and you will be successfully sued to no end.

Moreover, even if you do win a lawsuit in the end, you will go broke trying to defend it and will be hopelessly distracted for years from your main business of selling video games.

Options To Make Your Video Game Legal

You can either parody the original (which is quite tricky), or you can follow the advice in the comment from @schizoid04 and change things to a similar degree to what you commonly see on television or in movies where they clearly don't have the licensing rights to the real thing.

If the game uses the images in connection with culinary or political criticism it could also be protected, but this video game probably would not rise to that level for intellectual property purposes.

Should I simply give the restaurant a different name? Should I feature the restaurant in a different city than where it really resides?

What if I mirrored all of the architecture to be backwards like how people "Mirror" copyrighted video on youtube?

None of these measures (or even all of them combined) go nearly far enough to be sufficient to ward off intellectual property or defamation-type lawsuits.

You need to rebuild from scratch touching on some of the general ideas or cliches for this type of business, but none of the distinctive specifics that associate this particular business with your images.

  • Very insightful, I thank you much. There is absolutely no way I can start over, so thats really out of the question. I never planned on using anything Trademarked by the company or use copyrighted music. All Im using is the building and wall color scheme plus furniture. I will now However find out what designs the company has trademarked. Is there a public records that allows me to view registered trademarks by companies? might be a dumb question. Thank you! Jun 7 '17 at 6:14
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    A trademark or trade dress protection doesn't need to be registered to have legal protection. "Trade dress" doesn't even have to be legally claimed in advance of bringing a lawsuit. The building and wall color scheme and furniture are almost certainly protected trade dress if they are anything other than completely generic and shares by almost all restaurants of that type. Your liability could easily be in the multiple hundreds of thousands of dollars. If you proceed without major changes, you will probably go bankrupt. Few cases are as clear liability cases as this one.
    – ohwilleke
    Jun 7 '17 at 6:18
  • There is absolutely no way I can start over Well you should have thought about this before going so far down the rabbit hole. You’ve been advised that using what you say you have is going to land you in some hot, hot legal water. Jun 7 '17 at 12:48
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    Ohwilleke, while I agree with your general statement, I think "Everything you want to do is completely illegal...very little of your work is going to be salvageable" is going to far. There is nothing illegal about the "backend" of the game (logic, game design, etc.) as described. So yes, I agree the entire visuals of the restaurant need to be redone, but that's a lot less than the entire game (but this is more a point about game design than the law). Perhaps, you want to clarify or tone down that line.
    – sharur
    Jun 7 '17 at 19:02

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