Infringing Skins and City of Heroes

Computer users can customize the appearance of a program by downloading or creating a "skin," a graphic file that effectively wraps around a program or program element the way a patterned sock wraps around a foot, changing its appearance but not its underlying function. It has become common practice for some players to use skins to create their own characters to play in videogames. Players use a separate program to design a look for a character, and store the instructions for creating that look on the hard drive where the game searches for approved skins. When the game is played, it substitutes the homemade skin for the licensed skin. There are websites that allow players to download skins created by someone else for use in their games. Although some games encourage the use of skins, many forbid the practice in the interest of protecting the integrity of their game and the underlying character properties. This practice is the source of a lawsuit where skins were used to make the characters in a volleyball video game appear naked.


City of Heroes can be similarly manipulated. The Creation Engine has a selection of over 100 logo choices, none of which infringe on any copyright. Independent websites offer free files that can replace one of the logos allowing more choices than the game initially offers, including the Spider-man logo, Batman's chest logo and the Superman "S"-shield. A similar replacement of "fabric" patterns in City of Heroes allows users to replicate Spider-man's costume "webbing" or Batman's scalloped cape, options not available in an un-hacked version of the game. Because City of Heroes skins are stored on the user's computer, they are not visible to players on other machines, or the City of Heroes game operators. With widespread skin use and the current technical specs, users can easily play whatever characters they want on any game platform, using protected characters without going through licensing channels at all.




The distinctive web-pattern of Spider-Man's costume can be recreated using skins, as can his spider chest emblem.


Batman's distinctive scalloped case can be created by using a skin.


A reflective skin was inserted onto the user's computer to allow City of Heroes play as Marvel's Silver Surfer.




These are the logos offered by City of Heroes. Skinners hack their computer's copy of the game and replace the choices with logos they create on their own. Once you know how, it is no more complicated than copying text from an email and putting it in a Word document.





Here, the Batman logo replaces one of the standard City of Heroes logos.





Batman Beyond: DCs futuristic version of Batman.



Created with The GIMP



Other DC Comics heroes have also been skinned in City of Heroes:
Superman, Robin, Flash, Green Lantern (above) and Nightwing (below).





Skin Infringement in Other Video Games

Freedom Force



Infringing Superhero skins are common in other games. Marvel properties Venom, Spider-Man, Green Goblin and Captain America (above) have been created for the Freedom Force video game.



The wireframe on the left is like a dressmaker's pattern, but for the whole body. The skin designer creates an image that serves as the "fabric," and assigns it to the appropriate folder on the user's computer. The game finds the skin and wraps it around the skeleton, thus enabling the user to play as an unauthorized character, such as Marvel's Colossus.



So have non-Marvel properties, like Mattel's He-Man.



Batman, Batman Beyond, Future Joker, Mad Hatter, Ventriloquist, and Batman's butler Alfred (above). Superman, Lex Luthor and Supergirl (below), also for the game Freedom Force






Green Lantern, the Flash, Martian Manhunter (above). Atom, Beast Boy, and more Green Lanterns (below), also for Freedom Force.











Superhero skins have been created for the video game Quake, creating an unauthorized derivative character by wrapping a superhero skin around an armored character. Marvel's the Spider-Man, Wolverine, Colossus, the Thing, and the Incredible Hulk (above), and DC's Batman and Green Lantern (below)







The Sims



Users have created skins for The Sims, here creating means to play as Marvel's Spider-Man and Incredible Hulk.



Back to Main Page

Superman, Batman, DC Comics characters TM and (c) DC Comics. All Rights Reserved. Used with Permission.
Spider-Man, Silver Surfer, and Marvel Comics characters TM and (c)  Marvel Entertainment, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Used with Permission.
Masters of the Universe, He-man TM and (c) Mattel

Freedom Force TM and (c) Freedom Force Properties LLC
Quake TM and (c) Id Software, Inc.
The Sims TM and (c) Electronic Arts, Inc.

This site is a supplement to an article in a scholarly legal journal for educational use only.
No affiliation or endorsement is actual or implied by the use of these images

Terms and Conditions of Use