Can Students Draw a Cartoon Character or Is It Copyrighted?

By Tom Streissguth

The laws of copyright protect original created works, including graphic images such as cartoon characters. Any person or company may claim copyright to a unique and original creation; the copyright holder has the right to register the copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office. Registration allows the copyright holder to sue for damages if his creation is copied, sold or reproduced without permission.

Student Use

Although the law does not specifically mention the use of copyrighted cartoon characters by students, private use of a cartoon character for study does not violate copyright. A student practicing drawing a copyrighted cartoon character for fun does not act in violation of the copyright laws.

Art Works

Drawing instructors may also make use of copyrighted cartoons. In an art class, students may borrow or work with commercial characters freely, either as practice or in their original works. The appearance of a cartoon character in a work of art does not, by itself, violate copyright law. However, how that art work is used is an important consideration. In some circumstances, the work and the "borrower" may be guilty of copyright infringement. A person who publicly uses a cartoon character in a manner that slanders or otherwise damages the reputation of the copyright holder may be sued by the copyright holder.

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Commercial and Public Use

Any commercial use of a copyrighted cartoon character without permission of the copyright holder is a violation of law. This includes the sale of any drawings or art works, either by themselves or in some other form such as on a T-shirt, team logo, advertisement, billboard, or promotional design. In addition, many forms of non-commercial public use, such as the posting of a copyrighted cartoon or image on a website, also represents a violation of copyright, as well as the holder's legal right to control how his original work is used. If the copyright is registered, the party "borrowing" the cartoon is liable for the payment of fines, damages, and other monetary awards to the copyright holder.

Cease and Desist and Litigation

As a practical matter, companies holding copyrights to cartoon characters will in many cases send a "cease and desist" letter to anyone they believe is violating their copyright. This gives the violator a chance to end any commercial use or illegal reproduction and avoid a lawsuit and an appearance in court. Because copyright litigation is time-consuming and expensive, the chances of recovering large awards and damages from students making limited use of a cartoon are remote.

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How Close Can a Logo Be & Not Be a Copyright Infringement?

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Are Commercials Copyrighted?

With the free accessibility of information and creative content over the Internet, it can be hard to know what is legally available to take and enjoy for free. It can be confusing to realize that something that may be free and legal to enjoy in one context may not be in another context. Most people think of commercials as a free bit of advertising that they are subjected to when they watch television or listen to the radio. Just because a commercial is broadcast for free through certain media does not mean that it is legal for anybody to upload the commercial on YouTube or post it for download on a website. Commercials are copyrighted, and only authorized parties may broadcast, copy or distribute them.

Legal Use of the Disney Characters

Walt Disney and the Disney group of companies have created some of the most memorable fictional characters in contemporary culture. Twenty-first century characters such as Nemo the clownfish are as beloved as classic characters such as Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck. Individuals who wish to use the Disney characters should take care to make legal use of them to avoid infringing Disney's intellectual property rights.

DVD Copyright Rules

United States copyright law is designed to protect the rights of people who create artistic work and those who purchase the right to use such works. DVD copyrights may be registered through the U.S. Copyright Office, but a DVD does not have to be registered to be copyrighted. Copyright protection immediately flows to an item the moment it is created in some tangible form; a DVD is considered a tangible form.

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