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I'm trying to make some dragons for my game and I'm wondering how far I can go with inspiration before I get in trouble.

Obviously, I can't just take a picture and make a 3D model that looks exactly like the picture. But what about taking ideas? For example this dragon has these iconic red fins on his neck and his tail and now I'm wondering if I could use similar fins on my own dragon or if that's getting me into legal hell.

I tried to google for Creature Design copyright but I could not find anything. Maybe someone here got some resources where I can find more info about that?

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    Oh Smaug, greatest of catastrophes, welcome to Law.SE. Can you tell us which jurisdiction you are in? – Paul Johnson May 26 at 19:12
  • Germany, Europe – Smaug May 27 at 20:32
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Copying something is copyright infringement - being inspired isn’t

Where the line lies between the two depends on the particular circumstances.

With dragons, there are probably millions of images created over thousands of years. If your dragon is a generic dragon inspired by these it doesn’t infringe copyright. If your dragon clearly looks like another specific copyrighted dragon then it does.

Unfortunately, if you stray to close to a copyrighted image you might get sued and that suit will be expensive to defend and you might lose. At the end of the day, the judge/jury decides if its a copy or not.

  • Counterpoint: There have been a number of lawsuits over music copyright, of the form "This short sequence of notes from your song sounds like that short sequence of notes from my song, so you owe me a kajillion dollars for 'copying' it." This despite the fact that there are only finitely many short sequences of notes, many of which sound horribly dissonant, and most of the rest won't match the genre. – Kevin May 28 at 1:15
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There's a short answer to whether you can use similar fins, and that's "not at the moment" - you've posted discoverable material (this question) where you've linked to an image and referred to the fins as "iconic". There is now evidence that would seem to support the argument that you were intending to copy, rather than to be inspired.

You might be able to find other sources (images, literature) that describe red fins which would change your perception of whether they were iconic. If so, you could include them in an edit or save them for possible defence argument, though it's not a perfect solution.

I liked this question, as it illustrates its own premise. Copyright actions may rely more on how people have described their inspiration than whether two things look similar. There's a significant difference between saying "I like the idea of red fins" and "I like the red fins in this picture", and that's the line a copyright lawyer would attempt to define.

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