Painting characters on clothes - copyright infringement?

'Is it legal', 'can I do this' type questions and discussions.
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Painting characters on clothes - copyright infringement?

Post by khloecelia »

So my boyfriend and I started painting a ray of designs from stained glass Rick and Morty, Lion King and pop art David Attenborough on jackets and clothes for fun, they turned out incredibly well and we've had a lot of recognition and people wanting to buy one. We've also had offers from clothes shops to buy our jackets to sell. However, before we start our mini business, I want to be totally clued up on copyright, including what I can/can't do, and what I must do to make it legal.
Any advice would be hugely appreciated.
Thank you so much.

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Post by AndyJ »

Hi Khloe,

You are right to be cautious about moving into a more commercial area with your artwork.

Let's take the easiest part first. If you produce portraits of personalities such as Sir David Attenborough, make sure that you don't slavishly copy an existing photograph of the person and you should be OK with this kind of art. There is no publicity right in the UK to protect someone's likeness. Probably the next easiest is the Lion King artwork. Make sure yet again that you don't copy any actual existing artwork such as posters for the show and you should avoid any infringement, if your work is 'in the style of' the costumes and characters. Theoretically there is probably copyright in the design of the costumes, but I think there is a relatively low risk involved in re-interpreting them graphically, as opposed to in three dimensional form.

The most problematic area would be things like the Rick and Morty images. Because the original characters start out as graphic works, even copying just the style is highly likely to involve using a substantial part of the original cartoons, and this would probably amount to infringement. If there is a heavy element of parody or pastiche in your versions, you may gain some protection by the fair dealing exception for this purpose, but this is new legislation and we don't yet know how the courts will interpret 'parody' and how much leeway a parodist has in reproducing a substantial part of the original. If these particular designs are popular then you can expect The Cartoon Network who are the owners of the copyright in the cartoons, to come after you. Incidentally, the words 'Rick and Morty' are registered as a European Trade Mark (details here) for among other things clothing, and this, together with the fact that the Cartoon Network is owned by Time-Warner who have a reputation for robustly protecting their intellectual property, increases the chance that you may get a cease and desist letter once your designs are available in the marketplace. For this reason, I suggest you should try and get a licence to use the Rick and Morty characters.
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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