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   Author  Topic: Copyright protection of fictional characters  (Read 7935 times)
thelorax
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Copyright protection of fictional characters
« on: Jul 16th, 2005, 3:54am »
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I apologize if this has been asked before, I checked through the most recent threads and used the search function. I also read through everything on copyright.gov and I'm still confused about one issue. I am curious if it is possible to copyright fictional characters. It seems like I've heard before that things like Mickey Mouse are copyrighted or trademarked or in some way protected from their likeness being used without permission (or from being "stolen" and used in another persons literary or art work). A friend of mine got in legal trouble because she drew fanart of a specific species of dragon from a fantasy novel series. Is it then possible to protect a fictional species or race  and what determines if such a thing is copyrightable? I myself am working on a graphic novel and find myself illustrating my characters and creatures from it a lot, and I and many of my artist friends post their concepts on the internet in forums or on their websites along with descriptions of what they are, their personality traits, etc. It's usually just for "fun" or for the sake of creating. But sometimes it is for planning/conceptualizing larger projects.
 
I know that the actual images are copyrighted, and that the actual written words copyrighted. But is it is possible to protect one's own characters/species/concepts that they've illustrated or written descriptions about if the finished literary/film/comic book/what-have-you has yet to be completed?
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thelorax
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Re: Copyright protection of fictional characters
« Reply #1 on: Jul 16th, 2005, 4:05am »
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also, i'd like to add. Would it still be possible to protect them in some way if they existed outside of any larger work whatsoever? (basically, i suppose, they just exist "inside your head" and you occasionally draw them for fun? are short descriptions of who they are accompanying the image enough?) and for clarification, I probably should have added. I'm talking about highly original things, not just "some guy in a generic outfit named Joe" or purple dog or something. But things that actually involved a creative process and have distinguishable personalities or other attributes.
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Isaac
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Re: Copyright protection of fictional characters
« Reply #2 on: Jul 16th, 2005, 7:13am »
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There is case law indicating that characters like Superman and Mickey Mouse are protectable even outside of the works in which they appear.    One of the things required is that the character be fleshed out in sufficient detail so that the character and not simply an idea for a character is protected.
 
It is easiest to meet the requirement for characters appearing in a visual medium and for characters appearing in a large body of work.
 
I'd particularly like to hear Mactheknife's take on this because there is a copyright circular on the copyright office web site that suggests that characters cannot be copyright protecte.   It probably is not possible to register a character separate from the work the character appears in, but that's not quite the same IMO as saying that the character is not protectable.
 
In any event, last time I looked at this subject I found a number of fairly well written articles on the subject through some searching on google.  If you need some pointers to those articles, let me know.
 
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Isaac
JSonnabend
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Re: Copyright protection of fictional characters
« Reply #3 on: Jul 16th, 2005, 9:51am »
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Isaac -  
 
By straight-forward derivative work analysis, wouldn't a character depicted with sufficient artistic expression be protected "generally", as uses of the character in other contexts would be considered a derivative work?  I'm not sure if that's the reasoning in the case law you mention, but I wouldn't be surprised if it were.
 
BTW, do you have the cite handy for the case?  I'd love to look at it.
 
[edit]Oops, unless we're talking about written descriptions of characters, not drawings of them, about which I was speaking[/edit]
 
- Jeff
« Last Edit: Jul 16th, 2005, 9:53am by JSonnabend » IP Logged

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thelorax
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Re: Copyright protection of fictional characters
« Reply #4 on: Jul 16th, 2005, 4:23pm »
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Thanks for the info. I'd be really interested in reading those articles, Isaac.
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