What Are You Buying When You Use an Independent Contractor?

Photographer Dan by Kevin Dooley from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Photographer Dan by Kevin Dooley from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

I get questions all the time from people involved in situations where a business outsources the creation of their website, marketing materials, or other photography work about who owns the copyright in the final work product and what can the other side do with it. And I get these questions from people on both sides of the relationship – the hiring company and the artist.

In these situations, my first question is always, “What does the contract say?” Under the U.S. Copyright Laws, if you hire a third party to do your graphic design, photography, or similar work, the artist owns the copyright in whatever you’ve hired them to create unless you have a written and signed contract that says you will own the copyright in the final product. A lot of business owners don’t understand this. They think they automatically get the rights in whatever they’ve hired someone to create just because they’ve paid for it. And that’s not true. Without an explicit contract that says they own the copyright, the artist owns it and the business has an implied license to use it.

Look at it this way – if you buy a poster for your office, you’re only buying the print. You don’t get the copyright with it. You can decide where you’re going to hang it or if you’re going to get rid of it, but you can’t make copies of it and sell them. Likewise, if you hire someone to do photography work for your website, you’re only buying the digital images, not the copyright in them. If you wanted to do something else with the images, you would need the photographer’s permission. If wanted to buy the rights, you could do that, but expect to pay extra.

There are many artists who write their contracts to say that the business hiring them owns the copyright in whatever they’ve hired the artist to create once they’ve paid their bill in full. That means if the client hasn’t paid their bill, they don’t own the rights to the work product, and the artist has rights to remove it from the client’s website if the client is using it without complying with the terms of the contract. I recently had a discussion with a website designer about modifying her contract template to explicitly state that she can and will shut down the client’s website if they are using her work and they haven’t paid the balance owed to her.

Here’s a video I did on additional issues you want to consider if you are or working with a third party contractor.

If you are a third party contractor or working with one, please read your contract carefully. This is the document for managing your relationship, including who owns the final work product and what happens if a problem arises. If you have contract templates in your work, make sure a skilled business and intellectual property attorney reviews them before you use it, because otherwise you may be stuck with terms that you don’t like.

If you want to chat more about working with contractors, copyright, and/or contracts, feel free to connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTubeLinkedIn, or you can email me. You can also subscribe to the Carter Law Firm monthly newsletter.
Please visit my homepage for more information about Carter Law Firm.

Questions People Ask About the Law, Photos, Sex Tapes, and Revenge Porn

Talk Shows on Mute by Katie Tegtmeyer from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Talk Shows on Mute by Katie Tegtmeyer from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

The movie Sex Tape comes out this week. The previews look dumb, but I want to see it to examine the story from a legal perspective.

I’ve done a fair amount of research and writing about cyber harassment and “revenge porn.” I’m generally an advocate of personal responsibility and people not acting like asses, but judging by the terms people search for and end up on my site, a lot of people don’t share my views.

Here is a sample of the terms people have searched for and ended up on my site just in the last ninety days. (I corrected the spelling errors unless they were too funny not to leave in.)

I get a lot of hits on my site when people search for terms like this:

  • Can someone post your picture without permission
  • Can I sue someone for posting pictures of me online
  • If someone sends you a photo via phone can you post it online
  • Is it illegal to take a picture of someone and post it on the internet
  • Sex tape invasion of privacy
  • Expectation of privacy in sex stores
  • How to get a sex tape of you removed from a website?

I feel bad for these people:

  • What if someone wants to post your explicit pictures
  • Someone is threatening to put me on a porn site
  • My daughter videotaped herself doing some sexual things and now someone is threatening to put it on the internet what now
  • Someone posted nude pics of me, what type of lawyer do I need
  • Girlfriend took illegal pictures and put them on Facebook
  • If a site posts my porn video can I make them take it down
  • My ex-husband has intimate pictures of me what can I do
  • What is the legal steps you can take when someone is distributing a sex tape of you without your consent
  • My ex-boyfriend has nude pics of me. Can I legally do anything to make him delete them?
  • Can I get someone arrested for posting nude pictures of me online
  • Can you get someone arrested for distributing a sex tape?
  • Can you be classified as a sex offender for posting nudes on Facebook Arizona

These people kind of scare me because they either sound vindictive or clueless:

  • Wapsites to post my nude pics
  • Took photos of my ex naked while she was passed out
  • Can I post pics of my ex online
  • Can I post a naked pic on the internet without the consent of that person
  • If a person uploads sex videos in prone sites how much money will he get
  • Do you allow people to post nude pictures on your site I broke up with a guy
  • If u put wife nude video with name on internet can u get in trouble
  • Is giving out naked pictures of your ex- girlfriend breaking the law
  • Can you send xrated pics to get back at someone
  • Is it illegal to take a picture of someone and caption it with a degrading comment

These are just funny:

  • Can you sue a person for taking a photo of your butt in public
  • My ex sent me nude pics can I prosicute her
  • What to do to keep ur man after he saw ur nude pics sent to an ex
  • My boyfriend exposed my nude pictures. I will arrest him
  • Can you take pictures of people having public sex?
  • How to legally make fun of people on the internet
  • Why do people post stupid things online

Anyone who’s a regular reader knows that I constantly say “Think before you post.” When it comes to taking explicit photos or videos with your significant other, don’t do it unless you can handle the responsibility and have enough integrity to keep your private life private.

If you feel you’ve been the victim of a cyber-crime, contact the police in your community. If you want to chat about other issues related to cyberharassment and revenge porn, feel free to connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTubeLinkedIn, or you can email me. You can also subscribe to the Carter Law Firm monthly newsletter.
Please visit my homepage for more information about Carter Law Firm.

Copyright Assignment vs Exclusive License

Is Copyright a Little Fuzzy? by Elias Bizannes from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Is Copyright a Little Fuzzy? by Elias Bizannes from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

I recently got an email from someone who asked me to explain the difference between a copyright assignment and an exclusive copyright license. I told him to call me and I’d explain it and he never did. So I’m writing a post about it.

The main difference between an assignment and a license is who owns the copyright. In an assignment you give up ownership and in a license you retain it.

Copyright Assignment
When you have a copyright assignment, you give someone else your copyright (usually in exchange for money).  Once you assign your copyright, you no longer own it. You can’t get it back unless the person you assigned it to gives it back or sells it back to you. Copyright assignments have to be in writing to be valid.

If you assign your copyright in a work to someone and then you try to use that same work – perhaps in a new project or your portfolio, you could be committing copyright infringement. The person you previously assigned your copyright to would have the authority to make you stop using it.

This may sound bizarre to you and some people have trouble grasping the idea that you can create something and be in a position where it’s illegal for you to use it. Think of it in terms of other property: If you sell your neighbor your car, you’re no longer allowed to drive it without their permission. Likewise if you sell your copyright to someone, you need their permission to use it.

Exclusive Copyright License
When you have a copyright license, you retain ownership of your copyright and you give someone permission to use it. In a license, you determine which of your copyright rights you’re letting the person use.  (A copyright comes with the rights to copy, distribute, display, perform, and make derivative works.)  A copyright license can be for all the rights, or just some of them.

An exclusive copyright license means that only the person who is licensing the rights can use them. You, as the copyright owner, can’t even use them while the license is in place. A copyright license can be perpetual or time limited.  So when a person has an exclusive perpetual copyright license that covers all the copyright rights to a work, it looks similar to a copyright assignment, except that the ownership of the copyright didn’t change. If someone wanted an exclusive perpetual copyright license, that might be a situation where the owner might want to consider assigning the license.

In a copyright license, you can have rights over what the person licensing the rights can do with it. For example, you might have the right to ensure that the licensing party is adhering to the standards you set regarding how the copyright will be used. If it’s a situation where you’ve licensed your copyright in exchange for share of the profits, you would be owed an accounting to ensure that you’re not being ripped off. Licenses tend to be complicated and should be in writing.

Deciding whether you should have a copyright assignment or a copyright license for your work can be a complicated decision that should be evaluated carefully, possibly with the assistance of a copyright attorney in your community who can explain your options and write effective contracts for you.

If you want to chat with me about copyright, feel free to connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTubeLinkedIn, or you can email me. You can also subscribe to the Carter Law Firm monthly newsletter.
Please visit my homepage for more information about Carter Law Firm.

Is That Legal – Flash Weddings

Photo by Maggie Winters for Pop! Wed Co., used with permission

Photo by Maggie Winters for Pop! Wed Co., used with permission

I saw an article on NPR the other day about a company that is helping couples elope in creative ways – with flash weddings. Pop! Wed Co. is an all-in-one elopement concierge in Washington, D.C., run by photographer Maggie Winters and secular humanist officiant Steven Gaudaen. The two select the location, obtain the marriage license, take the photographs, and perform the ceremony. They show that a fast wedding doesn’t have to be plain.

According to the article, they never get permission or a permit for any of the locations and they have been asked to leave a few venues. Apparently Gaudaen finished the ceremony for one couple while they were being escorted out of the Natural History Museum so they could still claim the location on the marriage certificate.

I’ve had a few people over the years approach me because they wanted to have a flash mob wedding and they wanted to know if it was legal. Of course the answer is always, “It depends.”

For years I’ve said I’m going to elope on a street corner on a Tuesday. If weddings weren’t also a reunion of family and friends, I would definitely elope because all the decision that go into planning a wedding will make me crazy. If you want to have your wedding on public property – like a park, or a street corner, or the beach – you can probably get away doing a ceremony in a few minutes as long as you’re not interfering with other’s enjoyment or use of the space. If you turn it into a production where you have a full set up and take over the area, that’s when you draw attention, and that’s a situation where municipalities require you to get some type of event permit.

If you want to have you flash wedding on private property – like a church, art gallery, or museum – you probably have to move quickly to avoid getting caught. These places are open to the public so you’re welcome to walk in, but if you don’t leave when requested, you could be trespassing. If your flash wedding causes a big commotion, police might try to give you a citation for something like disturbing the peace or disorderly conduct.

I think flash weddings are pretty innocuous as long as they’re performed with the right spirit. These are the biggest potential risks I see.

  • If the venue normally charges a fee to hold a wedding at their location and they find out that you had a flash wedding without their permission, they could send the couple or the organizers a bill . . . but then they’d be the jerks who sent a bill for a five-minute wedding ceremony that didn’t interfere with their space.
  • If the organizers have previously been kicked out of a place for doing a flash wedding there and they try to pull off another one at the same venue, they might be at risk for trespassing because they know they were using the space for an unauthorized purpose.

If you’re looking for a resource about the legalities of flash mobs, I wrote an entire book about it called Flash Mob Law: The Legal Side of Planning and Participating in Pillow Fights, No Pants Rides, and Other Shenanigans. In it, I share the process I go through as a flash mob organizer to help ensure that no one’s going to get sued or arrested during or after an event.

If you want to chat about flash mobs or other guerilla events, feel free to connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTubeLinkedIn, or you can email me. You can also subscribe to the Carter Law Firm monthly newsletter.
Please visit my homepage for more information about Carter Law Firm.

Yes, Personal Facebook Posts can be Harassment

Hack de overheid by Sebastiaan ter Burg from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Hack de overheid by Sebastiaan ter Burg from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

A friend recently directed me to a post on Facebook that included a question about the following:

I have a friend who is having some legal problems that started from a facebook post called “harrassment by communication” for something that was written on their own PERSONAL facebook page. 

This is my interpretation of this statement: This person’s friend is being a accused of wrongdoing because of a post Friend made on Friend’s personal Facebook page.

That can absolutely happen. If you talk about another person on your social media profile, the fact that it was made on your page and not the target’s does not shield you from the repercussions. It would be similar if you were yelling about a person while standing on your own front law vs a street corner. You’re still making a statement about a person. The fact that you have more control over your lawn than a public street corner doesn’t change whether the content of your statement is illegal.

It would a different situation if we were talking about a statement Friend made in Friend’s private diary they keep in their bedside table. In that situation, I wouldn’t expect anyone to find out what Friend wrote as long as he/she kept it private. There is no expectation of privacy in anything anyone posts on social media, regardless of your privacy settings. This is why I tell everyone to treat every post on social media as if it’s going to end up on a billboard or the front page of the newspaper.

Arizona has criminal laws against cyberharassment and harassment. They both involve communicating with a person with the intent to harass them or with the knowledge that the person was being harassed. The laws do not put limits on from where that harassment can occur. Both crimes are Class 1 misdemeanors, punishable by up to 6 months in jail and up to a $2,500 fine.

Additionally, I would expect the terms of service for every social media platform to include a provision that forbids users to the site to harass other users and doing so could result in the suspension or termination of the offender’s account.

Carter Law Firm's Postcards

Carter Law Firm’s Postcards

I have no idea if Friend referenced above did anything wrong or if he/she is merely being accused of doing something wrong. I can only say that Friend may have committed some type of harassment depending on the facts of the situation. The fact that they made the post in question from their personal page does nothing to protect them from the legal implications of their statements. The First Amendment does not shield you from the criminal consequences of your actions and there is no expectation of privacy on any social media platform.

Think before you post – because the consequences of your speech can be severe.

On the flip side, I tell people if they are being harassed online to document all the instances and take screenshots of all the offending posts – particularly in situations where the person who is making the statements are doing so from their own profile because you never know if/when they might re-think their actions and delete them.

If you need a resource that explains the legal dos and don’ts of social media in plain English, I recommend my book, The Legal Side of Blogging: How Not to get Sued, Fired, Arrested, or Killed. If you need a resource to help protect yourself against harassment and cyberharassment, I recommend The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker.

If you want to chat more about freedom of speech and cyberharassment, feel free to connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTubeLinkedIn, or you can email me. You can also subscribe to the Carter Law Firm monthly newsletter.
Please visit my homepage for more information about Carter Law Firm.

How to be Anonymous Online – John Huppenthal Shows What Not to Do

Anonymous by Thomas Leth-Olsen from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Anonymous by Thomas Leth-Olsen from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

It recently came to light that John Huppenthal, Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction, has been using various aliases to post comments on several blogs for years. Some of his comments have been described as racist and disparaging towards welfare recipients.  There were also times that he used his alias to write comments that endorsing himself and his position.

John Huppenthal, Image from the Arizona State Legislature

John Huppenthal, Image from the Arizona State Legislature

Allegedly Huppenthal said he used an alias to participate in the free exchange of ideas. To a degree, I get that. Before the internet, the best way to be heard was to write a letter to the editor. I knew of at least one public official who used an alias to express ideas as an individual rather than as a person holding political office. I also suspect that if this person was unmasked it would be a non-issue for them. (They also weren’t sending in letters dripping with discriminatory speech. They were just expressing themselves as a concerned citizen.)

So what can we learn from John Huppenthal’s mistakes about being anonymous on the internet . . .

Use an IP Address that’s Hard to Trace to You
According to the reports, Huppenthal made several posts from the Arizona Department of Education. If you want to be anonymous, make it hard to for people to track your internet connection. Don’t use the internet connection at work, home, or your personal hotspot. Use the public internet at a coffee shop, hotel, or library.

Protect Your True Identity
If you want to be anonymous online, take steps to protect your identity. Besides using a public internet source, create a dummy email address for your anonymous posts. Choose usernames that don’t reveal anything related to who you are, your job, your location, or your hobbies. Don’t use photos of yourself as your avatar.. That’s partially how Shashank Tripathi got caught as the man behind the fake tweets about Hurricane Sandy.

Carter Law Firm's Postcards

Carter Law Firm’s Postcards

Don’t Endorse Yourself
It’s one thing to use an alias to participate in public discourse and another to create a fake persona to endorse yourself when you’re running for or holding political office. If you want to respond to your critics, do it as yourself. It’s classier and it shows you have integrity.

Expect to be Unmasked
I frequently tell people, “Don’t post anything online that you wouldn’t put on the front page of the newspaper.” This includes everything you post anonymously. Act as if everyone you care about is going to see what you posted with your name and picture attached to it. That way if your identity is ever revealed, you can own it without any personal issues.

If you have aspirations of being or remaining anonymous online, this video may help.

Huppenthal said he won’t resign over these posts and he’s currently up for re-election. We’ll see if the revelation of this behavior will impact his career. If nothing else, he’s the living embodiment of the risks that come with an attempt to be anonymous and the mistakes you can make when you think no one knows what you’re saying.

If you’re interested in learning more about how to be anonymous online, please check out my books, The Legal Side of Blogging: How Not to get Sued, Fired, Arrested, or Killed and The Legal Side of Blogging for Lawyers. The latter includes an afterword by an anonymous award-winning legal blogger The Namby Pamby about the challenges he faces.

If you want to chat with me about anonymous speech on the internet, feel free to connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTubeLinkedIn, or you can email me. You can also subscribe to the Carter Law Firm monthly newsletter.
Please visit my homepage for more information about Carter Law Firm.

Copyright FAQs

Large Copyright Graffiti Sign on Cream Colored Wall by Horia Varlan from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Large Copyright Graffiti Sign on Cream Colored Wall by Horia Varlan from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

When I speak, I often refer to previous blog posts as potential resources for attendees. I frequently talk about copyright issues and I realized I haven’t written a post about copyright basics. So let me fix that.

What is Copyright?
The copyright law gives you rights to your original work. Your work may be comprised of text, drawings, photographs, video, sculpture, music, etc. When you create something, you have the right to control where your work is copied, distributed, displayed, performed, and what derivative works can be made from it.

What’s a Derivative Work?

When Do You Get Copyright Rights?
You get your copyright rights the moment your work is fixed in any tangible medium. It has to be a work you’ve created, not just an idea in your head. You do not have to register your work with the U.S. Copyright Office or even put a copyright notice on your work (“©[YEAR] [YOUR NAME]”) to get your rights.

How Long Does Copyright Last?
For all works created on or after January 1, 1978, the duration of copyright is as followed:

  • For work created by an individual: Life of the author + 70 years
  • For work created by a company: 120 years from the date of creation

After this time period, the work become part of the public domain and anyone can use it for any purpose without needing the copyright owner’s permission. The owner of a copyright can give up their rights to their work at any time by releasing it into the public domain. If they release a work into the public domain, they can never reclaim their copyright rights.

What’s the Difference Between Copyright and Trademark?

What’s the Benefit of Registering a Copyright with the Copyright Office?
There are two main benefits for registering your copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office:

  1. It is strong evidence that you actually own what you claim you own.
  2. You cannot sue for copyright infringement unless you register your work with the Copyright Office.

If you want to be in a position where you can sue for copyright infringement when someone steals your work, talk to a copyright attorney about your copyright strategy. There are many ways to protect your work. This is where the law can get really complicated and you want to make sure you’ve set yourself up for your desired outcome.

How Do You Register Your Work with the Copyright Office?
You can register your work on the Copyright Office’s website. You’ll need to fill out the form, upload a copy of your work, and pay a filing fee. The filing fee for a single work is $35-55. You can do this yourself, but the Copyright Office’s website is not very user-friendly.  I recommend at least hiring an attorney to walk you through the process the first time.

Legal Side of Blogging Book CoverIf you want to do it all yourself, allot at least 2-3 hour to get through it the first time. And you might want to have an adult beverage on ice as a reward at the end of the process.

To put it in context, it took me an hour the first time I registered my own work and I knew what I was doing. (I have a certificate in intellectual property in addition to my law degree.) Now, I can submit an application to register a copyright in under 30 minutes most of the time.

I hope this has been helpful. If you have questions about how copyright works in terms of the internet, social media, and /or blogging, please check out my book, The Legal Side of Blogging: How Not to get Sued, Fired, Arrested, or Killed. Approximately half the book addresses copyright issues.

If you want to talk more about copyright, feel free to connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTubeLinkedIn, or you can email me. You can also subscribe to the Carter Law Firm monthly newsletter.
Please visit my homepage for more information about Carter Law Firm.

Being the Lawyer at Phoenix Comicon

Mike Baron and I speaking on Comic Book Creator Rights at Phoenix Comicon 2014 - Mike says this photo is proof that the "gurus" could not levitate.

Mike Baron and I speaking on Comic Book Creator Rights at Phoenix Comicon 2014 – Mike says this photo is proof that the “gurus” could not levitate.

Earlier this month, I spent the weekend speaking at Phoenix Comicon. I was on two panels: Comic Book Creator Rights (with Mike Baron) and Copyright and Fan Fiction/Art (by myself). The lineup at this year’s event was amazing and included Stan Lee, Cary Elwes, Nathan Fillion, and the original Batman cast (Adam West, Burt Ward, and Julie Newmar). There were also workshops on writing and costume-making, a huge exhibitor room, and the best geeky game show – The Phoenix Ultimate Geek Smackdown.

Mike Baron

Mike Baron

Needless to say, no one was coming just for me, and I didn’t have line of people waiting to attend either of my panels. But I had about 30 people at each session and those that came were truly interested in the subject matter.

I heard a rumor before my first panel that my co-presenter wasn’t too enthusiastic about being on a panel with a lawyer. We’d never met before and I’m sure he did what I did, which was no advanced research. I bet he assumed I’d be boring, stuffy, dry, and wearing a suit. I suspect he didn’t expect his legal eagle co-presenter to be in jeans and a hot pink t-shirt that said GeekLawFirm.com.

I got to our room before him and I did what I typically do when I present at Phoenix Comicon – I took off my shoes and plopped myself down on top of the table.  There’s something about sitting on the table that makes me feel energized and free-spirited.

Ruth Carter

Ruth Carter

Unfortunately, Mike walked in through the back entrance so I didn’t get to see the look on his face when he first saw me. He said hello and took a seat behind the table but then I declared that we were doing our panel from on top of the table. He humored me and climbed up. (I’m not sure he knew what to think at that moment.) I spent most of our panel gleefully swinging my legs and they dangled over the edge of the table while we fielded the audience’s questions.

About halfway through our panel one of the event photographers popped in to take some shots of us. He later told me that he’d never seen anyone present from on top of their table. He seemed pretty amused when he saw the two of us sitting cross-legged on top of the table. (I sit cross-legged when the photographer comes in because I think it looks cute in the photos, but I usually uncross my legs once they leave because it’s not the comfortable.)

Our panel went really well. I provided some basic information about copyright, trademarks, and contract terms, and he got to talk about how these things actually play out in the professional comic writing world. I think it was great balance between academic and practical knowledge from both of our perspectives.

I often forget that there’s a strong stereotype about what a lawyer is and that many people assume that I’m boring and that my material is dry. When people ask me to speak at their event, it’s not uncommon for them to say, “She’s a lawyer, but she’s not that kind of lawyer,” when they tell people about me.

Hmm . . . maybe I should have business cards printed that say, “Ruth Carter, Esq., Not That Kind Of Lawyer.”

Photos by Erik Hawkinson, used with permission.

Intellectual Property in Comic Books

Comic Books by Sam Howzit from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Comic Books by Sam Howzit from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

I had the pleasure of presenting on Comic Book Creator Rights with the award-winner comic author Mike Baron at Phoenix Comicon last weekend. We talked about how important it is for writers and artists to understand what rights they have in their work and the various ways they can protect it.

Copyright
An artist or writer has copyright rights in their work the moment they put fingers to keyboard or pen to paper. As the owner of their work, they can control where their work is copied, distributed, displayed, performed, and what derivative works can be made.

Unlike books where a complete story is often contained in a single volume, a comic book story may be broken up into several 22-page issues. One thing Mike and I suggested to our audience was registering the copyright in the “story bible” as well as each issue that the artist creates. A story bible is a master document that lays out the setting and norms of that universe and the backstory and characteristics of each major character.

The copyright laws regarding infringement for published and unpublished works are different, and under the current laws (that are in need of overhaul), a work that is released only online is “unpublished.” To maximize your options for recourse (i.e., financial damages), I advise artists to register their work with the U.S. Copyright Office before they release it if it is unpublished. Mike also suggested doing a short run of each issue so the work will qualify as “published” and the rules about when you have to register to be eligible for what’s called statutory damages are more favorable.

Trademark
A comic book artist could have several trademarks related to their series – the name of the series, logos, slogans, and the name and possibly depiction of the characters. Any or all of these could be trademarks used to market the artist’s work.

For each of these potential trademarks, it’s a good idea to run a search on the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s (USPTO) trademark database to make sure that another artist doesn’t already have the exclusive right to use that trademark in relation to comic books or similar products. If they do, they can force the other person to rebrand.

If the desired trademarks are available, putting a superscript “TM” next to them will put everyone on notice that the artist is using them as trademarks, not just elements in their series.  Registering them with the USPTO will increase their value and give the artist the exclusive right to use those trademarks. No one else in the industry could have the same trademark in the U.S. Registration also increases their value and may make the artist’s work more desirable if their goal is to be acquired.

Identifying and creating a strategy to protect your intellectual property is complicated, so if you want to talk more about this subject, feel free to  connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTubeLinkedIn, or you can email me. You can also subscribe to the Carter Law Firm monthly newsletter.
Please visit my homepage for more information about Carter Law Firm.

Fan Art and Copyright: You May Have Rights

Hairy Situation by JD Hancock from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Hairy Situation by JD Hancock from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Let me tell you a story. MGM owns the copyright for The Wizard of Oz. In 1976, they hired Bradford Exchange to create a series of Wizard of Oz collector plates. Bradford had a competition for the “Dorothy” plate design. Jorie Gracen submitted a design that clearly depicted Dorothy, Toto, and the yellow brick road, but the image doesn’t match any screenshot from the film. Gracen’s design won but she refused to sign the contract to turn her painting into the plate. Bradford allegedly gave her painting to another artist who used it to create a similar design which was made into the plate.

Gracen sued Bradford and MGM for copyright infringement…and she lost, but this is a pivotal case regarding derivative works.

This is a picture of the plate that was actually made that is remarkably similar to Gracen's painting

This is a picture of the plate that was actually made that is remarkably similar to Gracen’s painting

The collector plates were derivative works; however, Gracen was acting in compliance with Bradford’s direction when she created her design. She couldn’t get a copyright in her work because it was based on the movie but she couldn’t get in trouble for simply creating it for the contest.

Bradford’s mistake was they didn’t include a copyright assignment or license in the competition rules. I would expect a similar contest to include a provision that everything the artist creates for the contest becomes the proper of the contest organizers or the company they represent.

Here’s the big lesson I take away from this case – if a copyright holder tells fans to create fan fiction or fan art, the fans’ work may not be original enough to warrant their own copyrights, but they shouldn’t get in trouble for creating something that they have been authorized to create.

However, the fans may only be able to create fan fiction or fan art; they may be committing infringement if they try to distribute it. I would expect the copyright holder to be especially upset if you try to sell your work because you could be interfering with their profits and/or hurting their brand with inferior artwork.

I will be doing two panels on copyright at Phoenix Comicon this weekend:

  • Comic Book Creator Rights, Saturday, June 7, 2014, 10:30 a.m., North 130 with Mike Baron
  • Copyright and Fan Fiction/Art, Sunday, June 8, 2014, 12 p.m. North 130

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