We cover video games here from time to time, in part because, well, I enjoy video games, but also because they provide a fascinating window into copyright issues as they approach greater degrees of photorealism. Just as LeBron's tattoos would never have even been a consideration, much less a problem, a decade ago, the depiction of a city and all its component architecture in a game wouldn't have been conceivable not that long ago. And yet here they are, and with copyright issues in tow.
If you're not familiar with the Spider-Man game series, the broad strokes are as follows: you swing around New York stopping crime and fighting villains as both Peter Parker and his protégé Miles Morales. And when I say New York, I'm talking about a version of the island of Manhattan that strives to reproduce the area as near to what exists as is possible, with some artistic license. (I haven't been recently, but I'm fairly certain there isn't an Avengers Tower dominating the skyline.) And while most of New York's iconic buildings and landmarks can be found in the game, there's one that is conspicuously absent from the 2020 sequel: the Chrysler Building.
According to IGN, one of the city's most identifiable skyscrapers was left out of Spider-Man: Miles Morales on copyright grounds. The building changes hands in 2019, with an Abu Dhabi/New York consortium selling to an Austrian/New York group. That change of ownership didn't provide Insomniac Games, the makers of the Spider-Man series, enough time to negotiate the rights to use the building in the game, which is why fans will see a non-descript, blocky skyscraper where the Chrysler Building should be.
The fact that the building is in fact so distinct in its style is what offers it the copyright protection not shared by many of its neighbors. Its design is an artistic choice, one that distinguishes it from its more utilitarian counterparts, and that copyright is something that game developers have to consider with the relatively newfound ability to recreate a New York that gamers can see and touch — virtually speaking, of course.
The story stands as one of interest more than disappointment: as nice as it would have been to see the familiar contours of the Chrysler Building in the latest game, it's more fascinating to consider how this same principle might apply across other games should they seek to replicate other world capitals. Or perhaps only interesting to those of us whose interests bisect both gaming and intellectual property, which I suspect is only a scant few.