I’m curious about US laws surrounding the use of copyrighted book content or characters for a not-for-profit purpose.

My situation: I’m working an online video game in which many of the characters come from various famous books or myths. When I finish the game, it will be posted online for all to use and I will not profit from it whatsoever. Suppose I wanted to use characters from certain books that are considered to be “classic” but have not yet entered the public domain (e.g. JRR Tolkien’s Hobbit / Lord of the Rings). What are the legal implications of this? Would I be likely to get in trouble for doing so?

On purely practical grounds, my doing so would be highly unlikely to deprive anyone of their profit (since I would only be using the name of a character and some of their attributes, which anyone could find on the internet without buying the book). However, I’d like to know how likely it is that I would get in trouble or be asked to remove portions of the game.


  • Why do you want to open yourself up to the legal possibility? – Ron Beyer Apr 2 at 12:48

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