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I'm making a free computer game based on Star Trek. It'll reference a few characters from the show, along with the Enterprise.

My understanding is by using character names from the show, I risk infringing on existing trademarks. Can I mitigate that risk by adding a line indicating "Star Trek and its characters are property of XXX corporation; I make no claim to ownership, etc..."?

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Negotiate a licence

Of course, your chance of doing so are not good - computer game companies routinely pay millions to use trademarks like this (and they usually get exclusive rights) and that’s probably out of your price range.

Stopping you doing what you want to do without paying for the privilege is effectively what trademarks exist to do.

If the usage was incidental and clearly used Star Trek IP to identify Star Trek products, like the usage in The Big Bang Theory TV show, then that’s OK. However, your usage is using Star Trek as the core of the product and that’s not OK.

Others have suggested that the trademark owner may not pursue you - that’s unlikely. Unlike copyright, trademarks that are not defended can be lost - this trademark is worth billions, they will happily spend tens of thousands to grind you into the dust.

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Such a disclaimer can be effective in some cases. If there is a passing reference to Captain Kirk or Commander Data in a game that is not focused on Star-Trek, for example. That would be a case of Nominative use where one uses a trademark to refer to the trade-marked thing, but is clear that there is no affiliation or endorsement by the trademark owner. But an entire game that is Star-trek based might be excessive.

That the game is free means you are not using the name in trade yourself, but you might be harming the market for games authorized by the trademark holder. This is something of a grey area, and you might want to consider consulting an actual lawyer with trademark experience.

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    I'm not hating on his game, but even if he does not sell the game they can go after him. Not saying they would, I'm sure they don't look at every indie game of course, but I mean theoretically. – Putvi May 28 at 16:41
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No, it is there copyright or trademark no matter what you say or put in the game.

  • trademark and copyright are quite separate. The Question seems to involve trademark but not copyright protection. – David Siegel May 28 at 16:30
  • Well he does not own it either way. – Putvi May 28 at 16:31
  • And if he is using characters etc, they would be copyrighted or their likeness would. – Putvi May 28 at 16:35
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Don't make people pay for it. It's a labor of love and CBS won't go after free distributions of unauthorized work. That's not to say can't go after it, as the IP holders, they would be well within their right... but because you're not making money, any winning won't be paid because you got no money to pay, to say nothing about the optics of a big company going after a little guy for making free product that celebrates the franchise.

All of this requires CBS to pay some very big fees to very expensive lawyers for years. You don't have to be a Ferengi to understand that there is "No profit in this venture." And no one is accusing the makers of Star Trek: Discovery of being as intelligent as a Ferengi in financial matters.

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    Trademarks that are not defended can be lost - CBS has to “go after” the OP – Dale M May 28 at 20:53
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    I'm sure CBS already pays lawyers to do things like this. – Azor Ahai May 29 at 18:00

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