How to Get a Cartoon Character Copyrighted

By Lee Hall, J.D.

How to Get a Cartoon Character Copyrighted

By Lee Hall, J.D.

Where there's a cartoon, there's a copyright. Copyright inheres automatically in a cartoon character once the cartoon is produced. So, why take the step of registering the character with the U.S. Copyright Office? Registration gives copyright protection teeth. It puts the public on notice that the copyright holder maintains exclusive rights in the original creative work and can stop others from infringing on the copyright. Should infringement occur, registration supplies the designer with the required basis for enforcement of the cartoon's copyright protection under the Copyright Act.

Man in flannel shirt smiling while he draws on large paper on desk

Online Registration

Today, thanks to the Electronic Copyright Office (eCO), made available by the U.S. Copyright Office, the creator can upload an image of the original character sketch onto a computer and handle the copyright process online. This method offers convenient and relatively quick processing, the lowest filing fee, online tracking, and the option to pay registration fees with a credit or debit card.

To file online, follow these steps:

  1. Set up an eCO account and follow the link from the home page to register a "work of the visual arts."
  2. Submit details about the image and a mailing address for the registration certificate.
  3. Review and certify the application.
  4. Submit the nonrefundable registration fee by credit card, debit card, or bank account.
  5. Review the application and then track the status of that application through the eCO website by using the assigned case number.

The Copyright Office will send a confirmation e-mail when it receives a submission, called a "deposit."

Registration by Mail

The U.S. Copyright Office will, upon request, send an application form by mail Alternatively, the applicant can find the copyright registration form in the forms section of the main Copyright Office website.

To register:

  1. Locate Form VA, which is used to register a work of visual art.
  2. Use the fill-in function to type in data before printing the form, or print the blank form out and then complete it in writing.
  3. Mail to the Copyright Office two copies on paper of your cartoon character published in the United States, or one copy of the character if it is part of a collective work not yet published or first published outside the United States. When you register by mail, the Copyright Office accepts fees in the form of checks and money orders. The address for the U.S. Copyright Office is: 101 Independence Ave. S.E. Washington, DC 20559-6000. The Copyright Office will send the successful applicant a registration certificate by mail.

Library of Congress Requirements

The Library of Congress may require a "best edition" hard copy of an applicant's work, even for online filers. Under the copyright law, deposits and identifying material, including submissions with denied claims, become U.S. government property.

Scope of Copyright

A successfully registered copyright protects the tangible attributes of a cartoon character. State law or common law might protect what the Copyright Act does not cover, such as the cartoon's concept or other intangible attributes.

Further details about how a registered copyright protects your character appear in the Copyright Office's Circulars, starting with the “Registration Procedures" in Circular 1, Copyright Basics.

This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.

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