Artwork based on film characters

'Is it legal', 'can I do this' type questions and discussions.
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Artwork based on film characters

Post by lew510 »

I am interested in producing artwork based specifically on the gremlin character. It would involve reproducing the characters likeness and adding a few creative changes. I'm not sure if this would count as original artwork and therefore, wouldn't infringe?

I have done a similar thing to the 'rules' quoted in the film:

Original: "(1) no bright light, (2) don't get him wet, and (3) never feed him after midnight, no matter how much he begs"

My changes: "Do not get wet, do not expose to direct sunlight, do not give alcohol after midnight"

I plan to use these designs for merchandise, website images, business cards and leaflets. I am a DJ and have somehow picked up the nickname Gremlin and wanted to exploit this. Are there certain rules I would need to take into consideration when designing the images?

Thanks for your help.
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Post by AndyJ »

Hi Lew,
I think there is a good possibility of you being able to do what you plan. There are two reasons for saying this. Firstly 'gremlin' is a normal English word you can find in the dictionary (unlike Darth Vader) and so using it in normal contexts is fine, especially as it is also your nickname. Secondly, although Warner Bros have registered the words 'gremlin' and 'gremlins' in a number of classes, so have a number of other companies, so there is already a degree confusion when the same word is attached to goods in a number of different categories.

There will be copyright in the artistic rendition of the gremlin characters as they appeared in the films, but since there are also a number of other characters (such as Furby) which somewhat resemble the Gremlins film characters and Warner Bros have declined to pursue their creators for infringement, I think that so long as you re-draw your version to be sufficiently different and don't use any of the names used in the film, you should have a reasonable chance of arguing this is not infringement of copyright. The trouble with using the new 'rules' you have devised is that they very much lead people back to the film characters and so increase the chance of a successful challenge by Warner Bros, both on trade mark grounds and for passing off.

As I have said on several other occasions here, you need to examine why you want to emulate the film characters, and if that is to capitalise on the success and fame of the movie, then you are more likely to encounter lawyers' letters or worse. However if you wish to exploit your nickname (something which is entirely lawful and ethical) then try to devise a method of characterisation, which although perhaps involving small, furry, mischievous animals, does not actually resemble the Steven Spielberg characters any more than does, say, a gonk or Animal from the Muppet Show. I imagine there are dozens of other children's toys available which are based generically on something similar. That way you can truly be said to have created something original which will be worthy of the separate copyright it will then attract.

Personally I always found the Gremlins reminded me of a friend's two chihuahuas, one of whom was, incidentally, named Gizmo.
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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