I'm wanting to make a game set in Tokyo, specially Asakusa. I want to loosely recreate some of the streets and buildings to really nail the feeling of being there.

Is it legal to recreate buildings in 3D for my game if they are along public streets? Like neighborhoods or small shops.

I've looked into this independently a bit and I found Article 46 on this translation of Japan's Copyright Law says:

It shall be permissible to exploit artistic works permanently located in such open places as mentioned in paragraph (2) of the preceding Article and architectural works by any means not falling within any of the following items: (i) multiplication of a sculpture and offering it to the public by transfer of ownership of its copies; (ii) imitative reproduction of an architectural work and offering it to the public by transfer of ownership of its copies; (iii) reproduction of a work for the purpose of locating it permanently in such open places as mentioned in paragraph (2) of the preceding Article; (iv) reproduction of an artistic work exclusively for the purpose of selling its copies and sale of such copies.

This seems to me to mean so long as I'm not recreating buildings to be sold or selling representations (photos, etc.) of the building as the sole focus I should be ok.

However, since I am in the US, does only US law apply to me? I have found this part of the US Copyright Law that states

(a) Pictorial Representations Permitted.—The copyright in an architectural work that has been constructed does not include the right to prevent the making, distributing, or public display of pictures, paintings, photographs, or other pictorial representations of the work, if the building in which the work is embodied is located in or ordinarily visible from a public place.

The game will involve simply walking around, no violence or libelous in nature.

What do you guys think?


First of all, thre does not seem to be any trademark issue here. You are not using the shapes or images of these buildings as a logo for the game, nor to promote the game, even if those images were trademarked (which is not likely).

Under US law it is clear that "pictorial representations" of existing buildings do not infringe the architectural copyright on the building. A copyright suit on the facts in the question under US law would not succeed.

On Japanese law, I can only give a view based on the translated law quoted in the question. If there are other relevant provisions, i will not know them. Making and displaying or distributing pictures of a building does not seem to fit any of (i) to (iv).

It is clearly not (i) " multiplication of a sculpture". I am not sure exactly what (ii) "imitative reproduction of an architectural work" includes. I would think it means physical copies or models, like the models of the Eiffel Tower that figure in The Lavender Hill Mob, or the models of the Empire State Buildig one so often sees in NYC souvenir shops. But if "imitative reproduction" includes picures, there is still an argument as the game publisher will not be 'selling copies" of such pictures. (ii) and (iv) obviously do not apply.

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