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I am a Czech developer and the game company is British. I've already contacted them but they are not responding.

I made a small indie game and released it on Steam.

Few days after the game's release, it came to my attention that I used a model in my game that the 3D modeler/author I downloaded it from stole it from another AAA game. Some players reported to the studio that I stole the model...

I used the model pretty much everywhere in the game, and I replaced all instances immediately after finding the issue.

I downloaded the model from sketchfab.com, a platform for indie game developers that want to use 3d models for their games.

The author of the model licensed the model under CC Attribution license, which means that all you have to do to use it in your commercial products is to credit the author - which I did. The model was uploaded 3 years ago and the game he stole it from is from 9 years ago.

The model was in my game for whole 2 days after release and it was also in all marketing materials. Now it's all replaced.

I haven't received any legal letters yet, and the studio is not responding. I've told them about the issue via their online support form and described it in detail (similar to this post). They are not responding and I am not exactly panicked, but it's under my skin. The fear of a letter one day coming and telling me I will have to give them every profit I made with the game. Or being sued by the studio.

What can they realistically do to me? Can they sue me? Should I find a direct email and contact their PR department directly? Or should I just wait for them to write or not (not good for my mental health).

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    How much money did you make from this game? If it’s not a lot, the cost of a lawsuit in a different country would far exceed anything they could possibly recover. Jul 29 at 17:06
  • @JonathanReez so far I made around 10k USD. I've also read something about that they could demand for the sued person (me) to pay the lawsuit costs?
    – Jon
    Jul 29 at 17:12
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    @JonathanReez And if it is a lot, it's worth investing in professional advice rather than asking a bunch of random people.
    – Studoku
    Jul 30 at 11:52
  • As a general principle, it is a bad idea to contact someone you are worried might sue you and deliver them a full and detailed admission. Maybe there was no (or weak) evidence before. Now they can simply produce your email(s) in court. Your last question amounts to "should I escalate this even higher within the company and hand them even more evidence?". Leave it alone. There was a good chance whoever got the support ticket from your customers didn't even care.
    – JBentley
    Jul 30 at 22:54
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Since the person who posted the game component under the CC-BY license has no right to do so, no one who used it in reliance on that license had any rights either, and all such uses were at least technically infringement (unless they came under a copyright exception, which seems unlikely).

The holder of the copyright on the component could sue in any country where a game using it was published. The details of the law, including the rules on damages and other remidies, will vary from country to country.

In the those rules are contained in Chapter 5 of title 17 USC particularly sections 502-505. Section 504 provides for possible money damages. Section 502 provides for a possible injunction (court order to stop infringing). Section 503 provides for for infringing works to be seized. Section 505 provides for possible awards of costs and legal fees to a successful plaintiff (copyright holder).

Section 502 allows injunctions to "prevent or restrain infringement of a copyright" on "reasonable" terms. But when the infringement has already been stopped, no such injunction is needed and a court is not likely to impose one.

Section 503 allows the court to order the impoundment of infringing copies and "plates, molds, matrices, masters, tapes, film negatives, or other articles by means of which such copies or phonorecords may be reproduced". This is largely obsolete for digital content.

Section 504 is the key. It offers the plaintiff a choice between actual damages plus profits and statutory damages. The rule for the first is:

The copyright owner is entitled to recover the actual damages suffered by him or her as a result of the infringement, and any profits of the infringer that are attributable to the infringement and are not taken into account in computing the actual damages.

This means money made by use of the unauthorized content, plus any loss of sales or other losses suffered by the owner. Money mad by the infringing work but not made by use of the infringing content is not included, if this can be proven. Income obtained after the infringing content was removed would probably not be included in the infringer's profits.

Statutory damages can be any amount between $750 and $30,000 that the count thinks is just, but id the infringement is proved to be "innocent" the lower limit is $200. The exact provision reads:

In a case where the infringer sustains the burden of proving, and the court finds that such infringer was not aware and had no reason to believe that his or her acts constituted an infringement of copyright, the court in its discretion may reduce the award of statutory damages to a sum of not less than $200.

An award of costs and fees under section 505 is entirely up to the discretion of the court.

If the maximum possible award of infringer's profits is $10,000, and a defense of innocent infringement is plausible, a plaintiff might well find such a suit unprofitable, given the legal expenses involved in preparing an carrying through such a suit. But that is entirely up to the copyright owner. An owner may choose to file even an unprofitable suit in an effort to deter others.

A person who has discovered that s/he has innocently infringed a copyright and made some money in the process would be wise to document the prompt removal of the infringing content form any publication, and efforts to notify the copyright owner. Ther is no way to be sure what actions the owner will take, if any, within those that the law allows.

Often a owner in such a case will not bring suit if the infringement was apparently innocent, resulting profits were small, the infringement has been halted, and future infringement by that infringer seems unlikely. But different owners have different policies on such matters.

An owner can delay in deciding whether to file suit or not.

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  • In my case, where I made only little money and it's not probable that the big game studio will want the attention if they decided to sue a small indie game developer like me, what is the most realistic scenario? Some people adviced me that I will probably get a cease and desist letter. Is that something that could happen? Would they send something like that in email or would they send a physical copy to my address? (I had some people online try to scare me by creating a fake cease and desist pdf letter when I announced the 3d model problem to my players).
    – Jon
    Jul 29 at 23:16
  • @Jon That depends entirely on the policy of the copyright owner. There is no way to tell what they might do unless they have a history on such issues. A C&D might well come by certified or registered mail, or by email, or both. But it is essentially nothing but a firm request for you to stop infringing, along with an implied or stated threat to sue if you don't It has no separate legal force or effect, as the owner can sue with sending a C&D. And it seems that you have already complied with any likely C&D. Also this is getting close to an RSLA (legal advice). Jul 29 at 23:25
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I am not a lawyer, so take this answer with the appropriate grain of salt...

My advice is twofold: First, keep trying to get in touch with the lawful owners of the asset in question, all the time making it clear that you acknowledge them as the lawful owners, and you are actively trying to reach a resolution to this issue. Second, keep a well detailed record of all the actions that you undertake in pursuit of this goal (emails, forum posts, paper letters), so you can demonstrate that YOU actively tried to remedy the situation.

This would serve the purpose that any "out of the blue" lawsuits would have to explain why they kept silent when you addressed them regarding the issue, and give you grounds to argue that this silence could be interpreted as a tacit allowance (or at least apathy and lack of concern) for your use of the asset.

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    There is no requirement for a copyright holder to explain why suit was or was not instituted at any particular time, at least not in the US. Silence on the part of the holder does not create any "tacit permission" to use the copyrighted content. There could be a defense based on the equitable concept of laches, a delay in bringing action that encourages .continued trespass and increases damages, but when the infringer has already removed the content that would not apply. Jul 29 at 18:42
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    -1. Unless you're sure that acknowledging fault here would make OP immune, this is quite likely to backfire.
    – Studoku
    Jul 30 at 11:54
  • @Studoku OP here - what do you mean by this? I plan to contact them directly next week, because they are not responding to a message sent via the support form on their website. I want to contact their PR department because I don't want this hanging over my head for months. I want at least a comment from them about the issue, or if they care about it at all.
    – Jon
    Jul 30 at 14:51
  • @Jon They won't reply. If they want to take legal action then you will hear from their lawyers direct. If they don't then they will avoid saying anything for fear of creating a free license by accident, or encouraging others to infringe if you publish their letter, or something. Much safer to just not reply. Jul 31 at 9:17

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