How To Copyright a Character and Protect Yourself From Infringement
Whether you’re an aspiring writer or a comic book author, learning how to copyright your creations is necessary. Copyright laws in the United States, including the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), enable the registration of original literary and graphic characters and protection against copyright infringement.
Can Fictional Characters Be Protected by Copyright?
Copyright represents a set of exclusive rights that every author gains automatically when they create original work—be it literature, visual arts, music, or digital content. Current copyright legislation, based on the Copyright Act of 1976, allows you to officially register copyrights for fictional characters from novels, plays, and other literary forms, or cartoons and images of characters.
Before you decide to register your creation with the United States Copyright Office, you will need to check if your work fulfills the following criteria:
- The character is original—It is not similar to any previously registered characters
- The character is well described and substantially developed—You cannot register a general idea of a character, only characters with names, specific traits, and appearance
- The character is the essential part of the story—Some courts use this aspect when deciding whether a character deserves copyright protection, which is denied if the character serves only as a vehicle for storytelling
For example, you cannot base your copyright on the general idea of a robot, but a specific description or image of a robot qualifies for copyright protection—like in the case of R2-D2 from Star Wars.
Is It Better To Copyright or Trademark a Character?
Fictional characters are protected by trademark laws, but this type of protection applies mostly to names and graphic content used for commercial purposes. If you plan to sell merchandise based on your character, trademarking its name or visual representation would be a good course of action.
One of the most famous examples of a trademarked character is Mickey Mouse. Its name and logos including this character are trademarks owned by The Walt Disney Company.
If you need more help with this topic, check out the Trademark vs. Copyright article in DoNotPay’s Learning Center.
How To Copyright a Fictional Character
As soon as you create an original character using textual descriptions or any visual methods, regardless of publishing, you have rights. To exercise those rights in court, you will need to officially register your work.
The U.S. Copyright Office allows online and mail registrations, with the former being more convenient and cheaper. Here’s what you need to do to register copyright electronically:
- Set up a free account on the Copyright Office website
- Hit Register on the homepage
- Select the appropriate category
- Fill out the registration form
- Use your credit card to pay the associated fees
- Upload a copy of your work in a proper format
You might wait for your copyright registration certificate for a long time—from two months to a year and a half—but once the registration goes through, your copyright lasts while you’re alive plus an additional 70 years.
How Much Does It Cost To Copyright and Trademark My Fictional Character Today?
As the main institution for copyright registration, the U.S. Copyright Office establishes all required copyright fees. How much you will need to pay for copyrighting your character depends on the registration method you choose. The basic copyright registration fees are visible in the table below:
Registrations of a Claim in an Original Work of Authorship
|Single author, same claimant, one work, not for hire
|All other filings
|Paper Registrations (Forms PA, SR, TX, VA, SE)
The institution in charge of trademark registration is the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). Depending on the circumstances, registering a trademark will take a minimum of $225 out of your pocket. If you hire legal help to complete the registration for you, the fees can rise to several thousand dollars.
How To Avoid Copyright Infringement for Using Movie Characters
Fiction characters, whether they appear in movies, literature, or comic books, fall under copyright protection. Under some circumstances, you can use them without obtaining permission or infringing on the author’s rights.
One of the most common methods to defend the use of copyrighted content in court is the fair use doctrine. The defense involving fair use must consider these four questions:
- Why and how did you use the copyrighted content?
- What is the nature of the copyrighted work?
- How much of the copyrighted content did you use?
- What is the effect of the copyrighted work on the market?
The consensus on what constitutes fair use in each case doesn’t exist, and the doctrine is open to interpretation. If the use of the copyrighted work was minimal, non-commercial—for example, free fan fiction—and focused on satire, parody, or commentary, it’s more likely that the court will recognize it as fair use.
Character Copyright Infringement and Public Domain
Another useful point when dealing with copyright legislation and fictional characters is the public domain. Any creative content that is not covered by copyright any longer, usually due to its age, belongs to the general public and can be used without any special permission.
Works of fiction and their characters published before 1924 now belong to the public domain. The rule applies to works published between 1924 and 1977 as well if:
- The work was published before 1964 without copyright renewal
- The copyright owner published the work before 1978 and didn’t include a copyright notice
Let DoNotPay Help You Protect Your Fictional Characters
Deciding against copyright registration of your fictional characters doesn’t mean you are left defenseless if someone infringes on your exclusive rights as the author. If you notice your work copied and used online without permission, you can serve the infringer with a DMCA takedown notice.
While a lawyer is not necessary for this scenario, you might back away from writing a takedown notice on your own due to the lack of experience with legal matters. If that’s the case, DoNotPay will jump to your rescue with our custom-made, highly efficient takedown notices that you can create within minutes.
You just need to follow these simple steps:
- Create your DoNotPay account in a
- Select the DMCA Takedown feature when you log in
- Provide answers to several questions about your work
- Confirm your personal information
- Click on Sign and Submit
Most people stop the infringement after receiving a takedown notice since nobody wants to end up in court and face exorbitant fees and possible damages.
DoNotPay Protects Your Creative Content and Then Some
Our platform was built around customers’ rights protection and fighting bureaucracy. By accessing DoNotPay from any , you can benefit from other useful features, including:
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