Performances utilising characters

'Is it legal', 'can I do this' type questions and discussions.
Post Reply
Bwadejs
New Member
New  Member
Posts: 2
Joined: Sat Mar 26, 2016 10:13 pm

Performances utilising characters

Post by Bwadejs » Sun Mar 27, 2016 10:09 am

Hi, ive seen a few threads on here that relate to this subject but i still havent worked out a clear cut answer so im hoping if i explain my situation someone fan give me a simple bullet point answer.

I am a professional entertainer, i mainly do fire performances and stilts walkabouts at festivals and corporate events. We are currently making some new costumes, mainly stilts costumes. But it can be really hard to come up with an original idea, especially one people will enjoy and most or our ideas for costumes are well known characters. I want to know how spot on i can make a character and still use it in a performance without infringing any copyrights.
Heres a few examples of costumes, ill put cartoons, spot on and adapted costumes as i know they can have different rulings and hopefully from these few examples i can get the jist of the rulings. If anyone could give tell me any that may suffer issues and why id really appreciate it:
1. teenage mutant ninja turtles ( just costumes for 4 of us to do a fire performance with fire props instead of the weapons, possibly using the theme music aswell)

2. Darth maul and a jedi. (we use fire props that look like light sabers, id like to do spot on costumes to go with it)

3. The samurai from sucker punch. Id like to make a stilts costume that looks just like these giant monsters from the film. The only creative change i would like to make is with their weaponry. The idea would be they look just like the film so as to be recogniseable, im wondering if that coulr be an issue?

4. Thunderbirds, just spot on costumes.

I really appreciate any help or advice with this. Thankyou

User avatar
AndyJ
Oracle
Oracle
Posts: 1942
Joined: Fri Jan 29, 2010 12:43 am

Post by AndyJ » Sun Mar 27, 2016 4:56 pm

Hi Bwadejs,
I am assuming that you are based in the UK. If that's wrong, then you should check the local legal regime as this is a subject which is interpreted differently in different jurisdictions. In the USA for instance, the whole subject is a minefield.

And I'm not sure I can give you a simple clear answer on this. In the case of characters who start out in strip cartoons or comic books, the artist who drew then will usually be the 'author' of their costumes. However when such characters get translated to the TV or movie screen, their costumes may well get re-designed, and in such cases the costume designer or wardrobe department may well be the new 'author'. Since most costumes of this type are fairly distinctive, they will probably qualify as artistic creations, in contrast to most off-the-peg clothing which generally doesn't. Obviously where the character is first introduced on the big or small screen (such as in Star Wars) then there is little doubt about where copyright is owned. Due to the terms of contract under which costume designers are hired, the copyright in their work will usually be owned by the production company or the director of the film.

Therefore making a copy of a costume of this sort is highly likely to engage the issue of intellectual property rights, in both copyright and quite possibly trade mark law. There may be more room for manoeuvre over weapons and the like in view of the Lucasfilm case from a few years back, but I suspect that won't help you with the main part of your question.

To make matters worse, the intellectual property rights in at least two of the subject areas you wish to emulate (Ninja Turtles and Star Wars) are owned by companies who are quick to protect their rights (See here and here). And merchandise arising from the Thunderbirds franchise has been widely licensed over the years, and is likely to become prominent again with the new series on television, and so I would expect either ITV or the production companies to take a renewed interest in their intellectual property also.

All of which means that I think your best course would be to seek licences to make the costumes you want to use, or make something altogether generic, which merely suggests the characters you want to portray.
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

Bwadejs
New Member
New  Member
Posts: 2
Joined: Sat Mar 26, 2016 10:13 pm

Post by Bwadejs » Sun Mar 27, 2016 5:05 pm

Yes i am based in the uk and thankyou for your help. I hoped starwars would have been simpler as it is done so often in so many shows and tv.
How would i go about aquiring licensing to do this? Would it be as simple as an email to whoever owns the rights with a request or would it be something more legally involved that may cost?
Its a shame as for a show id see it almost as free advertising for the shows but it does make sense in a way. Could an oriiginal character (ie copying the theme of clothing for star wars but making up a new character name that looks a little different) get around this?

User avatar
AndyJ
Oracle
Oracle
Posts: 1942
Joined: Fri Jan 29, 2010 12:43 am

Post by AndyJ » Tue Mar 29, 2016 7:09 am

Hi Bwadejs,

To get a licence you need to find out who owns the copyright and /or trade mark (generally this will be the company which produced the comic or film etc), and contact their licensing department. In the case of Disney, you can do this through their UK offices. There will inevitably be some cost involved, but given the restricted nature of your work, it shouldn't be too expensive.

While you may think of it as advertising, you can be sure that the companies will see it as an attempt to exploit their intellectual property and will act accordingly. I can't really advise you on what changes you would need to make to the costumes to make them safe from any infringement claims, because as I often mention when writing on this subject, there is the law and then there is the degree of hassle and aggravation you may suffer if the companies feel they have been wronged, and the two aren't necessarily the same thing.
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

Post Reply