Personalised character painting, decaupaged 3D letter & key rings.

'Is it legal', 'can I do this' type questions and discussions.
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Personalised character painting, decaupaged 3D letter & key rings.

Post by SCK »

I have a query regarding copyright law for character painting/images. I have created a few pieces which so far have just been gifts but would like to make a go of selling them.

The items Id like to sell are:
Hand painted watercolor paintings of characters such as CBeebies, Miffy, PJ masks, Beatrix Potter. My paintings include some characters or the main character and a characature of the child in the same style (the personalised bit), the back ground is my own.

Decaupaged 3D letters made from magazine cuttings of characters such as those in CBeebies, Marvel, Lego magazines. With one or mixed characters.

Hand painted personalised (with child's name) bookmarks & keyring/bagtags with painted characters as above and with Mario Bros. Minecraft .

None of the images I create would be a direct copy without some alteration in the placement & background of an image found on the internet to work from.

I look forward to your reply (with crossed fingers)
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Re: Personalised character painting, decaupaged 3D letter & key rings.

Post by AndyJ »

Hi Sarah.

Welcome to CopyrightAid.

I can foresee problems with using the majority of the characters which you mention, such as Miffy. The only ones which should be free of copyright are the original Beatrix Potter illustrations, as Potter died in 1943, ie more than 70 years ago. However, you would need to avoid using any of the more modern versions of the Potter characters, for instance as seen in the recent Peter Rabbit film directed by Will Gluck.

Most animated TV characters are created by independent production companies which own the intellectual property rights in their characters. Since these characters move, there is virtually no angle or view of each character that won't have appeared on screen at some time or another, meaning that it is not really possible for you to create your own artwork which does not replicate an existing image by the original animator, even though you may not have directly copied it. Naturally these production companies exploit their work in many different media, not just on television, and so they need to protect their intellectual property on behalf of their existing licensees. In the case of Miffy in particular, these intellectual property rights are handled by a company called mercis bv on behalf of the series creator Dick Bruna. Much the same sort of arrangement will apply to the CBeebies and other characters. Marvel Comics have a particular reputation for protecting their intellectual property in a robust manner.

Decoupage as an artistic method would not provide any real protection from a copyrght claim, because UK law says that
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."
So once your commercial work along the lines you outlined became known to the respective rights holders, you should expect a letter or two from their lawyers, or at the very least, having examples of your work deleted from places like Etsy or ebay etc. You could approach the various rights agents for a licence to produce the characters in the form that you have described, but I suspect that, for relatively low volumes of work, this may be uneconomic.

Clearly, the further away from the original character your paintings go, the better chance you have of avoiding a claim against you. So painting a specific child in style of a character may be enough, but you would still have the problem of how to advertise this without clearly indicating the underlying characters.

Which leads to another aspect to this. Many of these characters' names, and occasionally their likenesses, will be registered as trade marks (eg here), adding further protection to the intellectual property rights. And even if you were to create your own characters which invoked the look and feel of one of these modern TV characters, that might be enough to trigger a passing off claim.
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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