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I would like to use some weapon names to sound familiar to readers, (AK47, M16, C4, Colt...), but as far as I have heard, using real names from weapons one must have the permission of the companies (at least, it happens with videogames).

So, my question is: Can I use real names from weapons, and not get sued due to copyright infringement?

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3 Answers 3

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The name of a product cannot be copyrighted it is trademarked. The appearance of the product can be copyrighted, trademarked or patented (trade dress).

Video games need additional license due to the use of the possibly copyrighted visual appearance of the weapon models. Text, which only uses the non-copyrighted names, does not.

You may need to look closer if you have extensive illustrations or are featuring the product on the cover, but the story text is almost certainly not an issue.

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    A small notice somewhere near the "release notes" (publisher, publishing date, ISBN etc) stating things like "Kalashnikov is trademark of Izhmash OJSC" will have you entirely covered.
    – SF.
    Dec 18, 2014 at 7:38
  • I guess it doesn't make a difference if you're not defaming the product in any manner. You can mention it as part of the script. maybe in a factual way. This is akin to you mentioning a city for your character, an actual live city with real landmarks and addresses. You wouldn't need to seek permission from the city authorities to depict the city.
    – srini
    May 16 at 7:21
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Use of copyrighted and/or trademarked concepts and products are allowed under Fair Use. It comes down to whether the company considers the use libelous, but that's rare, as challenging your work would give extra publicity to your statement.

Still, you can use any major brand in your work as it's simply free publicity to the brand. I've read several books mention Coke, Lucky Charms, Burger King, IHOP and even have an epic battle take place in a Walmart (and don't forget Harry Dresden's Mickey Mouse alarm clock).

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  • There are also lots of books that mention real weapons. Very common in thriller, spy, adventure novels, most famously perhaps Ian Fleming who gave Bond and other characters real weapons.
    – Stuart F
    yesterday
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The short answer is yes, it is a trademark and infringement (not copyright) is specificly exclusive right to provide products or services under said trademark.

If you're in the US, the bottom of the Wikipedia entry has links to some landmark court decisions in the field. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trademark_infringement

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  • The question isn't whether the user can provide products and services but just to name things. Dec 16, 2014 at 20:18
  • @NeilFein: That is exactly his/her point: the author is NOT "providing products or services under said trademark," therefore author can safely refer to products by their trademarked name, without explicit permission.
    – dmm
    Dec 19, 2014 at 15:52
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    @user3467349: If you have the time, your answer would be improved by clarifying your main point, and by giving a one-sentence summary of the relevant landmark court decisions. (Even so, I upvoted to cancel out one of the downvotes, as this is not a "minus reputation" answer, IMO.)
    – dmm
    Dec 19, 2014 at 15:57

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