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I'm wondering what trouble a game developer could get into with making references to other things that served to inspire the dev. Suppose the dev plans to sell the game; would such references possibly cause issues later down the line


I refer tpo references such as, for example:

  • drinking bird (Alien movies)

  • Glasses with "A. Wesker" written on the side (Resident Evil)

  • A brochure that advertises The Overlook (The Shining)

  • Newspaper talking about a shark killing "Martha Vineyard", aged 75 (Jaws)

  • One of the lockers has the name "S. Henriksson" (Cry of Fear)

  • Book titled something like "The favourite fellow" by Charles L. Ray (Chucky)

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In general this kind of brief literary reference is not unlawful, and such things occur in both novels and commercial games with some frequency. Making such a reference a major part of the plot, such as by using a name from a previous work as a major character, particularly if other aspects of that character are also used, is far more likely to cause a problem.

In the this would be a matter of fair use. In general, when only a very small part of the source work is used, such a a single name; where the use is "transformative", that is used for a rather different purpose than in the source work; where the use does not harm the market for the original work; and where the use does not serve as a replacement for the original, it is likely to be held to be fair use. But fair use decisions are always fact-dependent, and are made case-by-case, so it is hard to be absolutely sure of one in advance. But the kind of literary reference described in the question is very unlikely to be held to be copyright infringement.

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