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I'm a game developer. Lately, I've been wanting to work on an open-world RPG game, but since I have a very small team I've been constantly looking out for the maximum help I can get for such a big project.

I decided to take inspiration for the creatures in my game from 2D illustrations of creatures in other games so that I can get a headstart. Would it be a copyright infringement of any kind if I use a copyrighted 2D illustration to make a 3D model that resembles the illustration?

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If somebody were to take a copyrighted 2D image and create a 3D object from the 2D image, it could implicate copyright laws.

In such a case, the 2D image is a preexisting work. The 3D image would be called a derivative work. 17 USC 101:

Under the Copyright Act, a "'derivative work' is a work based upon one or more preexisting works, such as a translation, musical arrangement, dramatization, fictionalization, motion picture version, sound recording, art reproduction, abridgment, condensation, or any other form in which a work may be recast, transformed, or adapted. A work consisting of editorial revisions, annotations, elaborations, or other modifications which, as a whole, represent an original work of authorship, is a 'derivative work.'"

Generally, the original work has a copyright where the owner can control adaptations and transformations of their works from one medium to another. That is, the original copyright owner has the exclusive right to prepare and to authorize the preparations of derivative works.

If you are interested in the public policy considerations and history, this is a great primer. "When does a work infringe the derivative works right of a copyright owner?"

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    Thank you for the much needed info
    – Carrick
    Jun 5, 2020 at 5:21

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