I have carefully researched your question, have experience in this
area, and have your answers.
First, any audio, video, photographic, or printed material is owned by
the person who creates it. The best rule of thumb is that if you
didn't create it, you need permission to use it.
That makes it difficult for you, I know. So I'll offer you some ways
you can view the rules you need to follow as well as some things you
can do to make the process easy for you.
First I conducted a Google search for the U.S. Patent and Trademark
Office. I searched the terms: "u.s. patent and trademark office"
You may view the results of my search online. The link is
The link to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office is http://www.uspto.gov/
Next, I searched that site for the rules for audio clips. I conducted
a Google search for the following terms: audio copyright fair use.
You may view the results of my search online. The link is
You may view some valuable information from Brown University's web
site. The link to this page is
This site outlines the exceptions to the initial rule that "the
creator of the audio clips owns it." The main exclusion is for
The main prohibitions of using audio clips you recorded from someone
else's broadcast or Internet sites are as follows, "They involve an
illegally acquired or illegally duplicated copy of the work. They are
transmitted by radio or television (either closed or open circuit)
from an outside location."
With this initial information located for you, I will now answer your
"(1) Would it matter if I sell the game, as opposed to making it free?
Specifically I am talking about selling the possibly
copyright-protected audio data as part of the game package."
No. It does not matter, unless you are a non-profit organization and
will not be profiting from the game at all. You may view the Brown
University site for more information about the non-profit exemptions.
"(2) Would using audio clips of speech from public figures be
considered "fair use" or otherwise exempt from copyright infringement,
IF the total length of audio material per-person was less than 60 (or
less than 30) seconds, or if any given clip was less than a given
length (say 10 seconds)?"
No, it would not be considered fair use for a company or individual
looking to profit from the sale of such a game.
"The clips will be used in a comical way which could be characterized
as parody in some cases."
The Letterman and Leno shows, for example, either have the rights to
use the video clips (from CBS or NBC, respectively) they make fun of
on a nightly basis or they obtain permission from the original source.
These sources typically allow them to use the clips at little or no
cost, as long as the words "Courtesy:" plus the name of the company
that owns the clips, is printed on the screen.
"(3) How far do copyright protections extend onto the following forms
of source audio material?
- Published music
- Current TV shows (sitcoms)
- Older, syndicated TV shows (reruns)
- TV commercials
- Clips from radio broadcasts
- Syndicated TV news shows, e.g. The O'Reilly Factor
- TV news broadcasts, e.g. CNN, local 5 o'clock news
- TV broadcasts of public events, e.g. celebrity comments at the Oscars
- TV broadcasts of political speeches, e.g. State of the Union address
- Internet audio clips of political speeches or well-known quotes from celebs
- Historical recordings, e.g. Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech
- Re-recordings of something spoken by a celeb that is well known,
e.g. I might personally record myself impersonating Schwarzenegger's
"Hasta la vista baby""
The answers to most of these are the same. For "movies, published
music, current TV shows, syndicated TV shows, TV commercials, clips
from radio broadcasts, syndicated news shows, TV news broadcasts, TV
broadcasts of public events, TV broadcasts of political speeches,
Internet audio clips of political speeches, and historical recordings"
you must obtain permission from the owners of the clips, regardless of
age. I can recall a major recent lawsuit that the family of Martin
Luther King sued a company for using clips of his voice without
obtaining permission. And in this case, the family of MLK requests a
significant fee for each time any clips of his are used. That's why
you don't see his speech on recording often.
Now, re-recording speeches, quotes, and etc., is perfectly legal for
you to do. As long as you don't use the real thing, you'll be fine.
Keep in mind, that if you or your company legally records something
that a public figure says in public and you have captured that on tape
or video, you are the owner of that recording and do not have to
obtain any permission from anyone to use it. But if someone else
records it (even if it's a public event), the person or company who
recorded it owns the rights to it.
"(4) In cases where copyright infringement may be a problem for me, any
suggestions for the best way to go about asking for use permission
(what wording or conventions would increase the odds of permission
The best way for you to pursue this is to first determine who owns the
rights to the clips. Typically this is the TV or radio station,
network, syndication company, or music publisher. You may conduct
online searches on the U.S. Patent and Trademark web site.
You simply go to the following web page and type in your search
perimeters and you can find out who owns the copy rights to the
particular clip you're seeking:
The easiest way most of the time to obtain permission to use the items
you're seeking is to telephone the owners of the clip. The process
will vary from copyright holder to copyright holder. You may be asked
to fill out a form or write a letter. You may only need to get in
touch with the appropriate person over the phone.
If you need to write a letter, keep it simple and to the point. Simply
state what you're looking for, include the dates of the original
recording and the specific clip you're seeking. Some will ask for
fees; others won't, as long as you "courtesy" them in your game.
An important note: You may want to create a permission form that you
ask these companies and individuals to fill out and sign that you can
keep on file. This will help avoid any confusion about what was agreed
to later on. The form, again should be simple. I would just have it
list the company or individual's name, address, and phone numbers.
Then include the specific clip about which permission is granted, and
the copyright holder's signature.
"(5) (a bit off topic) Any problem with using a headshot (picture) of
these public figures in the game?"
As long as you took the photo, there's no problem. You can't legally
swipe it from a web site, magazine, newspaper, or other publication.
But, again, you may be able to easily obtain proper permission.
I hope this helps. If you have any other questions or need any
clarification, please don't hesitate to click on the "clarify" button.