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Hey all,


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?



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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)


More info on Trademarks courtesy of the US Gov. (PDF)




Does that help?




Thanks guys, yes, that helped. I contacted the Copyright offices with my question just to be sure. You would think it wouldn't be so vague.

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  

Of course, Disney's no stranger to plagiarism, either:  the animated "Aladdin" cartoon is a blatant rip-off of the 1940 Alexander Korda/London Films "Thief of Bagdad" movie starring Sabu as Abu, Conrad Veidt as Jaffar, the grand vizier who seizes the throne from Ahmad (John Justin) and attempts to woo the princess (June Duprez).  Rex Ingram is the gigantic genie.  Sound familiar?  Disney was smart enough to wait till London Films was long gone before embarking on "Aladdin."


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