Posted by Mr. Q at 6:00 AM Wednesday, October 24, 2012
Dear Rich: We want to create a trivia game for mobile devices. The topic is movies characters. We want to show some drawings too (made by our artistic staff). Is there a copyright problem with using their names and showing drawings representing them, even if some characters are from animation, or fantasy movies? If permissions were like traffic signals, our staff would give your mobile app a yellow light. You're probably fine but proceed with caution. As we've discussed before, movie characters are often separately copyrightable from the movie(s) in which they appear. If the character is separately protectable (or if the still used from the movie is protectable), your drawings would likely be derivatives and the combined use of character name and image could be considered infringing. We say "could be" because this legal analysis is likely to be overkill. If we examine the cases in which trivia merchandise is pursued (as we did at a recent post), it's usually because it focuses on one movie, TV show, or book. That is, the owner of the movie, book, or TV show feels as if their work is being ripped off. We think you can conclude that as long as you don't focus your trivia game on one work or character, then the odds diminish as to whether anyone will be motivated to chase you down (and your chances of claiming fair use increase).