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I've got a little bit of a conundrum. I have created an animation that uses and contains a copyrighted game character model. I want to distribute this animation without breaching copyright. To attempt to do so, I encrypt this animation file with the original game character model file as the key. Only people who own an exact copy of this character model can open the encrypted file, revealing the exact same character model with animation attached. Have I breached copyright? If so, is there a way I could approach this so as to not breach copyright?

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    If so, is there a way I could approach this so as to not breach copyright? - Contact the copyright holder and ask for permission. Your way would probably work as well, but do you want low risk or no risk?
    – Peter
    Sep 4, 2019 at 11:58

3 Answers 3

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Your distribution of an unauthorized derivative work is arguably a copyright infringement, even though you have modified its form in a manner reversible only by others who may also be authorized to perform the original. As with so-called "fan-art", one major concern would be whether the copyright owners find out about it, think you're "making money on it", and care enough to do anything to stop you or to extract penalties.

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  • Practically: It depends on the developer. Bethesda, for example, will most likely not care at all unless OP is actively making money (without tithing a sufficient quantity back to them). Nintendo, on the other hand, will send a cease & desist letter as soon as anyone so much as mentions the project in public. They have displayed some tolerance for Let's Plays and other forms of streaming, but those generally do not involve modifying the underlying assets.
    – Kevin
    Sep 5, 2019 at 5:58
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This would still be a violation of copyright.

Your animation is a derivative work. The rights to control creation and distribution of derivative works are part of the bundle of rights you get as "copyright", so merely by creating a derivative work you have technically violated copyright (I say "technically" because doing so privately runs no practical risk of enforcement).

If you distribute your derivative work then you are violating the original copyright again. This is true even if distribution is restricted to those who already own the original.

Of course all this is modulo fair use. If your work is fair use then you can publish it as widely as you like; nobody can stop you.

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No.

Is shredding a copyrighted book and distributing the bits legal? If it's a derivative work, you are breaking the law, but if it can't be proven that it's a derivative work, charges cannot be brought against you.

Therefore, I believe you are not distributing copyrighted material to anyone without the key. You are however assuming that those who have access to the copyrighted material can receive your derivative work, which you aren't entitled to distribute.

For example, if two people bought The Matrix trilogy DVDs, one of them cannot sell t-shirts with a screenshot from the film to the other.

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