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Writers and Editors (RSS feed)

Are fictional characters protected under copyright law?

Let me know if I am missing anything relevant to and important about this topic.

Are Fictional Characters Protected Under Copyright Law? (Kathryn Goldman on Jane Friedman's blog, 7-14-21) Goldman, an intellectual property lawyer, writes: "Jack Ryan, the analytical, yet charming CIA analyst, made an appearance in federal court in Maryland earlier this year. The heirs to Tom Clancy’s literary legacy are fighting over him. Unlike in the movies, he’s not in a great position to fight back....

      "Here’s the crux of the current court battle: When Clancy mistakenly transferred his copyright in the book Red October to the original publisher, did the copyright to the character Jack Ryan go with it? Or did Clancy retain the character copyright? In normal practice, the sale of the right to publish a copyrighted story does not stop the author from using its characters in future works. "Courts have held, in certain circumstances, that fictional characters are protectable in their own right."...

     'The “well-delineated test” is the most widely accepted legal test used to decide whether a fictional character is protected by copyright, but it is not the only one....

      'A character is protected under the “story being told” test when he dominates the story in a way that there would be no story without him." An excellent account of the issues on an important topic. Be aware of the implications, especially if the character you create might appear in a movie one day.

Protecting Fictional Characters Under U.S. Copyright Law (Richard Stim, Nolo) Fictional characters can, under U.S. law, be protected separately from their underlying works as derivative copyrights, provided that they are sufficiently unique and distinctive. This is based on the legal theory of derivative copyrights. A survey of court cases, among other things.

Copyright protection for fictional characters (Wikipedia) An overview of the issues and court cases. "Historically, the Courts granted copyright protection to characters as parts of larger protected work and not as independent creations. They were regarded as ‘components in a copyrighted works’ and eligible for protection as thus. Recognition of characters as independent works distinct to the plot in which they were embodied came about only in 1930 in the case of Nichols v. Universal Pictures. Following Nichols, the American judiciary has evolved two main tests to determine whether a character in a work can be eligible for copyright protection": The Well-delineated test and the Story being told test.

Copyright in Characters: What Can I Use? Part I Bryan Wasetis, Aspect Law Group, 5-9-14) Learn how copyright law affects video game characters, and ways to avoid copyright infringement. The first part in a three-part series. See also Part II (12-22-15, What are fair use exceptions) and Part III (8-4-18), about characters and trademark.

Marvel and DC’s “Shut-Up Money”: Comic Creators Go Public Over Pay (Aaron Couch, Hollywood Reporter, 7-16-21) "The star writers and artists behind major comic book characters are becoming increasingly outspoken about "paltry" deals that don’t account for their work being adapted into billion-dollar blockbusters.... Conventional wisdom within the comic book industry is to go to Marvel and DC to build your personal brand, then leave, bringing that audience over to publishers that allow you to retain character rights....Creators working at Marvel and DC sign work-for-hire contracts granting the publishers ownership over their characters and storylines."

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