Derivative Works Confusion - Advice please

'Is it legal', 'can I do this' type questions and discussions.
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Steverus
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Derivative Works Confusion - Advice please

Post by Steverus » Tue Jan 25, 2011 7:32 pm

Hi

Im looking for some advice written in "laymans terms" about copyright and derivative works.

I have created over 150 characters that are in the style of the existing Mr Men characters

All these characters are 100% my own work, but are drawn and laid out in a style which is styled to the existing Mr Men

Example - Simple drawing, solid outline, solid colour fill, horizontal dashed shadow, and a font to suit.

Each character is called MR. - something

Having read up on copyright, its hard for me to understand where the boundary lies - these are 100% my own creation, but they are styled like existing content.

Are these a breach in copyright as they dont "copy" existing content, character or name - but at a glance the first thing that comes to mind is MR MAN! - which is the result Im looking for, closer inspection reveals that they are not Mr Men.

Just mooching around the web - It appears that a title cannot be copyrighted, does this also apply?

Thanks in advance

Steve

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AndyJ
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Post by AndyJ » Tue Jan 25, 2011 9:35 pm

Copyright is about the protection of the expression of ideas. Not so much the idea itself. If you write a book which contains a number of similarities to Dan Brown's book the Da Vinci Code, but you don't actually lift any of his text and copy it, you would be on reasonably firm ground as far as copyright is concerned. But when it comes to music and artitstic representations the courts tend to require more convincing that an idea hasn't been copied or plagarised.
As you have said, your characters are "in the style of" the Roger Hargreaves Mr Men characters, which is only a small step away from saying "based on". So I think you would be on shaky ground as far as copyright is concerned.
But really that is less of a problem than is Trade Mark protection. Many if not all the Mr Men characters are registered Trade Marks (see here for more details: http://www.ipo.gov.uk/t-find-adp?propnum=0860020001 ) which means that just being relatively similar to the real Mr Men characters could be sufficient to infringe Trade Mark rights. Trade Mark rules are quite complicated - and you did ask me to keep it simple - so suffice it to say that if you were inteneding to publish your characters in books and other forms of publishing that Mr Men are published in, then if the court held them to be identical (ie any differences were slight or immaterial), then that would constitute infringement. If the court held that your characters were similar, but were likely to confuse the public, then this too would constitute infringement. If you somehow found a different marketplace (trade mark class in the terminology) from those in which the Mr Men characters are registered for use (and many of them are registered in 16 or more classses) then Roger Hargreaves (or his publishers) would need to show that the reputation of his goods/services would be damaged by allowing your use of your characters in that other class. The important thing to note here is that with Trade Marks, the criteria for determining similarity are much wider than would apply in copyright cases.
Lastly, there is the common law tort (civil offence) of passing-off. This simply means that you could be accused of unfairly benefitting from the popularity and appeal of the Mr Men characters for your own ends, and possibly to the detriment of the reputation of the Roger Hargreaves' characters.
Last edited by AndyJ on Wed Jan 26, 2011 10:15 am, edited 1 time in total.
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

Steverus
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Post by Steverus » Tue Jan 25, 2011 10:47 pm

Thanks for the reply Andy. It confirms what I thought from the reams of info I have looked at.

The thing that is most relevant is your last point. As I said the only likeness in my drawings are the use of small simple cartoons depicting a character to portray a meaning. This is indeed what the Mr men series has done, so my idea in that sense uses the same concept. It was the use of my own characters, no likeness to any existing characters that I couldn't get my head around, regarding copyright.

Back to the drawing board then...literally

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