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I am not developing a game or creating game characters. What I am trying to do is give a name to the software that I am creating in my spare time. It seems there is a game character by the same name, a popular game at that (I am not a gamer but a google search to check the name revealed it). The software is intended to be free but might make money in the future, so I want to know this.

Are names of characters in games copyrighted and is it illegal to use them to name other unrelated software components and applications that might or might not make money?

  • I would think this depends upon the name. i.e. "Cole" (Infamous/Sony) clearly can't be in itself. It's very general and broad. Where as "Nathan Drake" (Uncharted/Sony) may be because it is far more specific. – Scott May 18 '16 at 19:06
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A name cannot be copyrighted, as names, titles, and short phrases are too small to constitute a copyrightable work.

A name can be protected under trademark. Trademark law is designed to protect consumers, by helping them reliably identify the source of a good or service. If your use of a name is likely to confuse consumers about the source of your product because (1) the name is similar to a trademarked name, and (2) the nature of your product is one that consumers might reasonably believe could be offered by the owner of the original trademark, then you might lose a trademark suit for your use of the name.

The domains are somewhat similar in your case (video games and whatever software you're writing), so there's maybe some possibility for confusion, but ultimately, whether there is valid case for confusion is a determination up to the courts.

See also Naming free software and avoiding trademark collision.

  • Ah! Trademark. Thanks. (I'll check but I think game characters aren't trademarked...may be I could beat them to it. The name is borrowed from my culture anyway so I might have more 'claim' to it if it comes down to that. Just thinking aloud here.) – vin May 26 '16 at 18:36

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