Just trying to get clarification for what I need to do to register and protect my characters as intellectual property.
The government websites are vague at best when it comes to fictional characters and such. Do I need to apply for a Trademark or a Copyright to protect individual characters?
Copyright in the US and Canada is automatically applied the second you create something. You can file for copyright for stronger protections.
Trademark is essentially for the "Name" or "Title". i.e. Superman the character is Copyrighted. Superman the Name or Symbol on his chest is Trademarked.
So if you have characters that you have designed and they are in a comic work (or cartoon, or poster etc.) they are copyrighted (and already copyrighted - even without filing - but filing will give you stronger protection). However, your comic "Name" or "Title" can be Trademarked. Do note a Trademark can take year or several years to be processed.
Copyright info (PDF)
Does that help?
I'd recommend tracking down a copy of "The Trademark & Copyright Book", a comic book about how copyright and trademark law apply specifically to comics. It's by attorney Michael Lovitz, published by Sirius. (Lovitz also usually does a series of comic copyright lectures each year at the San Diego Comic-Con, if anyone plans to attend and is interested in the subject.)
In the end, however, it boils down to whether you have the time and money to slog it out in court in case someone goes after you. For instance, your grey-hooded character might rankle the feathers of DC re: the Spectre, Marvel re: Moon Knight, or Hanna-Barbera re: Space Ghost (though likely not). In case that sounds far-fetched, remember that DC in the late '40s successfully litigated against Fawcett for Captain Marvel (the red costumed character with the lightning bolt on his chest who shouted, "Shazam!") for being too close to Superman. DC won, and buried the character for 25 years until they decided to use him again in the early '70s, even bringing in original Fawcett artist C.C. Beck. All this because Capt. Marvel was outselling Superman in the '40s, and DC (National, as it was known then) didn't like that.
James Barr slagged Gaiman's Sandman, saying it was a ripoff of his character, the Crow, but the Crow seems to look a lot like Alice Cooper's stage persona of the '70s. It all boils down to who has time, money, and interest in litigation, unfortunately.
"...There is nothing new under the sun." Ecclesiastes 1:9