Cartoon Costume Mascots/Characters

'Is it legal', 'can I do this' type questions and discussions.
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partyman
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Cartoon Costume Mascots/Characters

Post by partyman » Wed Jun 13, 2012 1:00 am

Hi Everyone,

Apologies if this has been discussed before but I have searched and cannot find any mention of it.

I am in the process of starting up a small business whereby I hire out or make appearances as lookalike cartoon character costumes. These costumes, also known as mascots, are lookalikes of cartoon characters such as Mickey Mouse, Dora the Explorer, Buzz Lightyear, Hello Kitty and Peppa Pig.

The costumes I will be using are not identical in look to the original characters but are obviously comparable to the actual characters.

My intention is to advertise them as lookalike characters, i.e lookalike peppa pig costume, lookalike minnie mouse costume etc. I will be making no suggestion that they are the original licensed characters and will follow the theme that they are lookalikes only. I intend to get customers to sign a terms and conditions page when they are used outlining that they understand that they are lookalikes only.

I would like to know where I stand with this and copyright law. I understand that all of the characters are licensed however i need to establish if there are ways around this and if by labelling them as lookalikes this avoids any possible infringement.

I am keen to stay within the law and will do whatever it takes to do so. There are a large number of such companies in existence doing a similar sort of thing and the majority have such a comment plastered over there sites -

"We are not associated or affiliated with and TV, film or entertainment company. Our unofficial homemade tribute lookalike costumes are all part of a personal and private collection and appear for fun at all events. We do not claim to be any original TV or Film character, only lookalikes. All our charges and quotes are our expenses only. We do not sell to third parties or provide any official merchandise or official costumes".

Please can someone with knowledge advise me on the subject matter and if relevant provide me with links to the legislation that covers the matter.

Many Thanks in advance :-)

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AndyJ
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Post by AndyJ » Wed Jun 13, 2012 5:59 pm

Hi Partyman,
I've had a good think about this today. In straight forward legal terms I would say there was a fairly small chance of what you propose being found to infringe the copyright in the various characters, firstly because you are not copying the costumes etc faithfully, and secondly because even if you were, you would be copying the 'idea' of a character rather than making a literal copy. One slight niggle with this argument arises from section 17(3) of the Copyright Designs and Patents Act which says:
(3) In relation to an artistic work copying includes the making of a copy in three dimensions of a two-dimensional work and the making of a copy in two dimensions of a three-dimensional work.
In other words making a 3D model of a drawn cartoon character could amount to an infringing copy. But I think it would be stretching that particular provision beyond its reasonable meaning to say that would cover making a costume which somehow reproduced the drawing on the page (or in a video).
There is also the question of Trade Mark infringement which has been covered in some recent posts on the forums (eg here and here), so I won't re-iterate that point here.
But, of more practical relevance, is whether any of the large companies which own the rights to a particular character would, regardless of the strength of their legal case, wish to stop you and might be tempted to use their financial strength to threaten you with legal action, knowing that you probably couldn't afford to take them on. This seems much more likely, but given as you say many other companies appear to be doing this without problem, it may be that this is not something the rights owners are too upset by. I suggest you use your contacts in the business and also research on the internet just to confirm this theory. Certainly one costume I checked today in a local party shop was made under licence from the Toon Studio, so that tends to weaken the theory.
Advice or comment provided here is not and does not purport to be legal advice as defined by s.12 of Legal Services Act 2007

partyman
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Post by partyman » Thu Jun 14, 2012 10:53 am

Thanks for taking the time to reply, I really appreciate it :D

As you mentioned, I will continue to do some research as I want to make sure things are right. However, I have found it hard to find the relevant info.

Do you know if character costumes themselves are specifically covered by Copyright Laws?

In addition, if such a copyright holder was to make representations against what I was doing, how would they go about it and what would i need to do? Is there a set procedure that is followed in such matters? Obviously this whole field is new to me so I would like to have a little bit of knowledge in my armour.

Thanks Andy, your a star :D

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Post by AndyJ » Thu Jun 14, 2012 7:04 pm

Hi partyman,
At its heart copyright is designed to protect against the literal copying of a work of art, music or literature, by reproducing the way an idea is expressed, rather than the idea itself.
Since cartoon characters are artistic creations they are protected. But just because Tom and Jerry are protected, that doesn't mean that no other artist can use the idea of a cartoon cat and mouse (think of Itchy and Scratchy in the Simpsons). So in a similar way you should be OK creating a sort of generic mouse costume, but if it copies Mickey too much then that could well be treated as infringement. The problem you face is that you deliberately want make lookalike costumes which people will feel represent Mickey, or Buzz Lightyear etc, and if you stray too far from their expectation they will just say your costumes are rubbish, just as one might with a human lookalike who in fact didn't really look like the celebrity they were supposed to represent.
As I mentioned in the first reply, the other problem is that the big companies like Disney, and Sanrio (owners of the Hello Kitty franchising operation) etc take their intellectual property very seriously and will pursue people they feel are cashing in on their characters. Because they have deep pockets, it is not unheard of for them to threaten legal action even if the grounds for doing so are slim, in the hope that you will not be able to afford to defend the matter in court and will settle by paying some compensation to them. At the most basic level they may just demand that you stop selling or hiring the costumes, but you cannot count on this being their attitude. I am not aware if the companies behind Peppa Pig (Entertainment One UK Limited & Astley Baker Davies Ltd) take such a serious attitude over their IPR, but it might be best to assume they do.
If you want to remove any risk, then getting licences to reproduce the characters is your best way ahead. Use the websites of the producers of the various characters to find links to their merchandising or licensing departments to discuss the costs. Some companies will refer to their 'partner programs' or something similar when talking about licensing. As an example, the one for Peppa Pig licensing is here: EntertainmenOne
But a word of warning first. Many of the companies to which you referred who are producing lookalike costumes may well be getting away with it by being so small that they are below the radar. If you approach a production company to ask about licensing, and then do not go ahead, they will be alerted to your existence and may well pay close attention to your advertising in the future.
I hope this helps.
Advice or comment provided here is not and does not purport to be legal advice as defined by s.12 of Legal Services Act 2007

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