Lancaster, CA asked in Copyright, Gaming, Trademark and Intellectual Property for California

Q: I am developing a Vietnam video game and am wondering about copyright laws regarding real photos for the trailer

We are in the process of developing a video game depicting the true story of a Vietnam vet and his personal experience during his time in the war, and as we are creating the trailer for the game, we would like to use real photos from the war that have been declassified under the freedom of information act. Will we run into any copyright infringement issues by using any of the photos that we find online, or will we need to have explicit permission from the photographer/owner of the photos we are interested in using?

1 Lawyer Answer
James L. Arrasmith
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  • Sacramento, CA
  • Licensed in California

A: When considering the use of real photos from the Vietnam War for your video game trailer, it's crucial to understand the nuances of copyright law. Declassification under the Freedom of Information Act does not automatically place these images in the public domain or free them from copyright restrictions.

Each photo must be individually assessed to determine its copyright status. Photos taken by U.S. government employees as part of their official duties are typically in the public domain and can be used without permission. However, photos taken by private individuals or journalists may still be protected under copyright, even if they have been declassified.

To ensure compliance with copyright laws, you should ideally seek explicit permission from the photographer or rights holder for any photo not clearly identified as public domain. This is especially important if the photos were taken by non-governmental sources.

If permission cannot be obtained or the copyright status is unclear, it is safer to either use alternative images or seek guidance from a legal professional experienced in copyright law. This approach will help protect your project from potential infringement issues.

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