The video game Defense of the Ancients has a character called Rylai, the Crystal Maiden. ("Crystal Maiden" is the title given to this character, "Rylai" is the name of the character in question).

If another video game has a character called "Rylai", or "Crystal Maiden", but the character's appearance and overall characteristics are completely different (or even slightly similar), is this a IP violation?

I heard that characters are subject to copyright, so a change of characteristics is definitely needed.

1 Answer 1


Character names are not protected by copyright. For US law, see Copyright Office Circular 33: "Works Not Protected by Copyright". On page 2 it states:

Words and short phrases, such as names, titles, and slogans, are uncopyrightable because they contain an insufficient amount of authorship. The Office will not register individual words or brief combinations of words, even if the word or short phrase is novel, distinctive, or lends itself to a play on words.

Examples of names, titles, or short phrases that do not contain a sufficient amount of creativity to support a claim in copyright include

  • The name of an individual (including pseudonyms, pen names, or stage names)
  • The title or subtitle of a work, such as a book, a song, or a pictorial, graphic, or sculptural work
  • The name of a business or organization
  • The name of a band or performing group
  • The name of a product or service
  • A domain name or URL
  • The name of a character
  • Catchwords or catchphrases
  • Mottos, slogans, or other short expressions

The requirement for originality in a copyrighted work was laid out in the Feist v Rural case. The laws of many other countries follow the same rule as the US in this matter.

If a character, not merely a character's name, is copied, including a number of distinctive aspects or features, and if this character is significant to the work as a whole, it might be sufficient to make the later work a derivative work of the earlier work, and thus require permission, But a similarity in name and general characteristics would not have that effect. See What is considered a derivative work? for more detailson derivitived works.

A character name could be protected by trademark, although most are not. But another work would only infringe if it used the name to identify or advertise the new work, in such a way that reasonable people would falsely believe it to be a sequel, or yto be authorized, sponsored, or ,endorsed by the makers or owners of the original. Mere use of a character name somewhere in the new work would not be trademark infringement.

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