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Old July 22nd, 2009, 04:44 PM   #1
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Legal Question: Board Game in Short Film?

We are putting together a short film where four people are sitting around a table playing a board game (yahtzee, monopoly, life, etc.). The game itself is not significant to the story. However, the game board would be seen in some of the shots. Am I asking for trouble or should we just invent our own fake game for the characters to play?
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Old July 22nd, 2009, 05:09 PM   #2
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Fake game = no trouble guaranteed.
Real game = maybe trouble, maybe not.

Easy choice for me.

There are plenty of generic non-copyrighted and non-trademarked games you can play that use dice, cards, spoons, etc. I'd have them play a rousing game of Zilch.
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Old July 22nd, 2009, 05:30 PM   #3
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Good point, Chris. But we will have to create some sort of board game(s). We need to see the characters moving game pieces across a board, have them get knocked off their spots, etc. I don't want to create work for ourselves but it could be fun to create a fake board game.
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Old July 23rd, 2009, 03:45 PM   #4
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One of the things I've been learning lately is the fact that the only thing important is giving the illusion of the characters playing a board game. If you're worried about using a popular name-brand game, you can develop your own, like Chris mentions, but you don't have to really go through the trouble. Spray paint a cardboard square and draw some funky circle or square design on it, and pieces from an old chess set or something colorful like small plastic toys from the dollar store will work. Borrow a deck of cards or a pair of dice from some other game, and just mimic the action. Since the game isn't an integral part of the story, All you really need to show are the characters rolling dice, picking cards, and/or moving pieces around the board. Just be mindful of the fact that you'll need to spend more time and effort on it if you plan on having closeups or cutaways of the game board and pieces.
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Old July 23rd, 2009, 04:19 PM   #5
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My 24 year old son is a certified gaming geek. There is a huge community of them, both game players and game creators. If this were my project, I'd put the call out for an up-and-coming game creator to send me one of their games with premission to use it in the film. I'd start at a site like BoardGameGeek.
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Old July 25th, 2009, 01:04 AM   #6
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Fake game = no trouble guaranteed.
Real game = maybe trouble, maybe not.
I know that the US is famously litigious but what possible reason could you have trouble? What is the difference between featuring a board game in a video & any other object from everyday life like a car, a laptop or a mobile telephone? All are designs that are protected by copyright but can be used in a video production without problems.

I do realise that there may special cases where denigrating the product or falsely implying that e.g. the product is dangerous or that the manufacturer endorses terrorism would not be acceptable.
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Old July 25th, 2009, 03:00 AM   #7
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Trademarks, trade dress, copyright, all are potentially valuable - thus why you'll see product placement in many movies/TV shows, look at the fine print in the credits...

It's why you'll see a laptop with a "pear" logo if they couldn't work a deal with another fruity brand... or a generic soft drink can or liquor bottle rather than a recognizable brand... and why you'll often see a single brand of vehicle throughout a movie being driven by the "stars".

While these are "normal everyday objects", when there's a commercial association of any kind, IP laws require the IP holder to vigorously defend their IP rights if someone infringes, or potentially lose them.

Virtually guaranteed that all of the major board games are trademarked... but no reason one couldn't borrow elements from several, mix them up a bit, and create a "new" game, just be sure whatever you name it isn't too close to any trademarked names...
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Old July 25th, 2009, 09:51 AM   #8
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If you ever watch "Mythbusters" you'll often find that they put "Mythbusters" labels over the trademarks of certain brands.

Diet Coke & Mentos became "Diet Cola and Mentos" I think.

Anyway.

I think you'll be fine if you get some tape the same color as the monopoly board, and stick that over the name, and use generic pawns instead of "doggie, top-hat, thimble."
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Old July 25th, 2009, 11:08 AM   #9
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Thanks everyone for the replies. Chris, I do like the idea of using some game from the GameBoardGeek site. I will look into that. Otherwise I will just create my own from various pieces or tape over significant logos, etc. Thanks again!
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Old July 25th, 2009, 11:31 AM   #10
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Trademarks, trade dress, copyright, all are potentially valuable - thus why you'll see product placement in many movies/TV shows, look at the fine print in the credits...

It's why you'll see a laptop with a "pear" logo if they couldn't work a deal with another fruity brand... or a generic soft drink can or liquor bottle rather than a recognizable brand... and why you'll often see a single brand of vehicle throughout a movie being driven by the "stars"...
Just to clarify, product placement really has nothing to do with IP or copyright. It's all about advertising revenue.

Productions "Greek out" names and logos to avoid potential conflicts with advertisers. You don't want to show Colgate toothpaste if you are trying to get P&G as a sponsor, and vice versa. Similarly, product placement is all about generating revenue, so Ford pays a fortune for the right to supply all the vehicles to "24."

As Brian points out, if you can't strike a deal with an advertiser (and remember, they pay you), you just put a piece of colored tape across the brand name so it sort of looks real but isn't fully legible. Every studio I ever worked for in Hollywood also always used to just go to the corner supermarket and use their plain-wrap brand of groceries as well... we used to have cases and cases of stuff that just said something like "Peaches" or "Milk" with black type on a white label, all obtained from our local Ralph's market (a huge chain now owned by Kroger).
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Old July 25th, 2009, 04:40 PM   #11
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Adam -
Yes, the brand/trademark holder may pay for being featured in a big screen film or popular show... it's just more advertising.

BUT, conversely if you utilize a brand/trademark/logo WITHOUT clearance, there's the very real risk that the IP holder can and will raise the question of whether you are making money and the association of their brand somehow adds value to YOUR work... it does swing both ways.

Probably wouldn't be a terrible idea to hit up a couple game manufacturers and see if there's "sponsorship" money for "featuring" the game - if the movie/script was any good, it might lead to something?
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Old July 25th, 2009, 07:23 PM   #12
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Couldn't they just play chess or cribbage or checkers or whatever it is that's usually printed on the back of checkerboards ... or something similar?
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Old July 25th, 2009, 09:38 PM   #13
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...if you utilize a brand/trademark/logo WITHOUT clearance, there's the very real risk that the IP holder can and will raise the question of whether you are making money and the association of their brand somehow adds value to YOUR work... it does swing both ways.
In theory, I suppose it's possible, but I don't know that I'd call it a "real risk." I don't think this has ever happened when you're just talking about props. Of course, it's a different story if your whole story is about how Coca-Cola causes instant death when consumed...

Remember, it isn't that M&Ms wouldn't give permission to be used in "ET", it's that they wouldn't pay, which led the studio to go to Hershey/Reese's Pieces, and the rest is history.

But I like Jim's checkerboard idea.

Welcome to the world of production, Tim. You come up with a great idea or creative element and then the lawyers (or bean-counters) get involved so you have to change it to something else. I've never been involved in any production, ever, where that didn't happen to some degree.
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Old July 26th, 2009, 04:31 AM   #14
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In years gone by in the UK any drama on the BBC very carefully avoided displaying any branded products so as a state funded Public Service Broadcaster they couldn't be accused of advertising or endorsing particular products. So if you saw a packet of soap power it would either be labelled with a fake name like "Soapo" or artfully angled so that the name was not visible. Nowadays real products are used in real-life dramas & the brand-names are visible. There can be no advertiser funded product placement as that is contrary to the BBC Charter. I seriously doubt that the BBC is either paying for use of these products or obtaining releases but then this in the the UK where lawyers are less active than the US. I would imagine that most manufacturers would be very happy with product placement for free.
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Old July 26th, 2009, 08:35 AM   #15
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I seriously doubt that the BBC is either paying for use of these products or obtaining releases but then this in the the UK where lawyers are less active than the US. I would imagine that most manufacturers would be very happy with product placement for free.
Even here the odds of getting sued are astronomical for unauthorized use in a small film (you probably wouldn't get sued, you'd instead get a cease and desist letter... and even that's a very small chance.) What we try to avoid is the possibility we have to reshoot because some pencil-pusher gets pissy.
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