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Question about making up characters...

917 Views 12 Replies 5 Participants Last post by  breakaway
Seems like an awkward question but it does deal with shirt design's so please answer if you can.

Hi all,

Well with sooooooo many comic book super heroes, they all seem similar to one another and changing them one way can make them seem to be like a another different comic book character.

So if I were to make a comic book hero t-shirt design, I am worried about copyright infringement.

For example, if I were to create a fire super hero who is always in flames... would that mean I am copying The Human Torch from the Fantastic Fours? Would that be considered copyright infringement?

Or say I create a character like Spider Man but his web design is different and he does not have a spider logo same color, blue and red... can Marvel slap me with a law-suit saying that I am using their character but with a slightly different design?

**Sorry forgot to mention, the name will obviously not be the same. thanks dom42 for reminding me**

PLEASE DO NOT ASSUME that I am copying someone else's hard work and ideas and using it for my own gain. That is wayyyy far from what I want to do. I want to make my own legacy if you would say so.

It's just that with comic book superheroes, all the colors, all the designs are similar to one another, how much can you really change?

Thank you for reading and hopefully, posting back some good feedback.

This community is full of helpful info.
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well it depends on how you use them. you obviously need to change some things , and obviously don't use the actual name of the character(your example).

Let me give you a scenario about what hap'n to me last year at the Staples Center down here in los angeles. I was at the NBA finals out side the staple center. i had made character such as kobe , magic, and kareem abdul jabbar. Im mean they look just like them and every1 knew who they were with out me have'n to put kobe or magic or kareem on the shirt. but in the design of the kareem i had a little "L" that look real close to the Laker's "L". An "NBA" official came out side and told me that i couldn't sell that here.......I ask him why, and he pointed at the "L'' which was on kareem's shorts. So pretty much that was the only thing i couldn't sell that night. Needless to say i went home that night and made about 30more kareem's but removed the "L" and went back to the next game. The same "NBA" official cam e out side to see my shirts and ask to look at them again. Pretty much he was cool with it.
Another scenario of how companies get away with certain things. Have you ever played "NBA Live" on playstation? WEll since the begining of the game (1994) Michael Jordan was never in the game. But there was this player called "player 99" which looked like MJ and even was the best player in the game. But they just didn't say it was MJ. that's how they got away without have'n to pay MJ for using his name or character. But every1 knows that that is MIchael Jordan. hope this help. but i would still go do some more research about copy right laws. JMHO.
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Thanks dom42 for the answer.

I guess that is a sigh of relieve!...

If so, do you have any online references to the pictures that you were talking about? seems pretty interesting of how the L looked...and also the characters.

any one else if any helpful answers or in their own experience with this kind of stuff?

here's a kobe that i did but it still has the "L'' i was talking a bout.

as you can see , that looks like kobe right. but there is nothing on here that say kobe bryant or lakers(- the "L") and even the Nike logo i removed......

but when it comes to phrases or those shirts that say some thing like : instead of "Von Dutch" it say "Von F##k" or "Von dusche"
there's a fine line .........

for all i care, i don't know who kobe is or this could jus t be some1 who looks like him. hey it worked for me. oh and instead of #24 it was #42. this is just the orginal 1 i did before it got on my shirts.


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I understand what you're saying as I'm a designer myself. The best thing I can say is be creative, if you think your character is too similar to another character, use your artistic skills to change them and make it your own. I think you should be okay unless you are blatantly trying to copy someone. Most companies are not that self-serving unless they feel you are trying to rip them off. The Incredibles features a guy who has fire I think. Now that I think about it The Incredibles has a lot of characters that have the same qualities that the Fantastic Four have.
dom, ur allowed to just sell your shirts on the street? lol
i did these character w/out having to even look at kobe ounce........i just did it from the top of my head. it just so happens that i have a photographic memory........
I think that potentially because you are using the laker colors, similar numbers (even if they are reversed) and such a likeness this could easily get you into alot of trouble, because the lakers could state that it could be confused with an official product because of likeness. Its really important that if there is something you are not sure about, its best to contact an attorney to make sure you are in the clear.

As far as comic book characters, again the same thing, you have to be careful of making them to where the likeness is too similar.
dom, ur allowed to just sell your shirts on the street? lol
lol..........but thats not what the product looked like . it was all broken up with frames and parts of the body where cut up with frames , and 40% if what you see wasn't even on the shirt................trust me you will be seeing my line here in the states soon. its been doing good in Japan and europe.....
Jus t look out for a line called "CLassik"........it will be a bunch of characters that almost look like "Icons" but done in a hiphop feel. i sold over 15k shirts in japan and europe. Ill have no problems, according to my lawyer........good luck.
The biggest problem is they can sue you if they feel like it. They have the money, so it's really up to them whether or not they think it's worth it.

Like you said, in such an oversaturated area it's actually pretty hard to prove your idea isn't a copy. If you have a whole comic to go with it (it's not just merchandise) I think you'd be in a much, much better position. There's few truly original ideas in comics, and new comics will by necessity resemble old ones. But if you're only selling merchandise, it might look more like you're trying to make a buck off their intellectual property.

Lawyers are quite capable of bending reality to fit their own continuum if the company decides they want to sue you. Personally I don't think the law matters as much as what the corporations will allow you to do does. You're at their mercy more than the law's. The key is to, for whatever reason, make sure they don't want to sue you (too much effort, too little profit, they expect to lose - whatever works).

What I'm getting as if Marvel sues Disney over The Incredibles then both of them send their permanently employed lawyers into a room, they throw around arguments for a while about "they copied me" "no, comic ideas are so generic it's just a coincidence", the judge bangs a gavel and everyone goes home. If Marvel sues you, they pound you into the dirt like a bully.
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Come to think about it.....

what solmu said is true.... there is only a few original comic book stories.. and the new ones will start to resemble the old ones. After all, what "new" could you come up with if a super hero already has the ability to fly, see through walls, being the strongest person in the world, breathe under water, create fire, creat ice, travel through time, etc. The whole spectrum of what we can add on to a character has already been crossed, and maybe 5 or 10 times more.

How much of a design can you make difference if every color scheme has been put together, if every armor and weapons and powers has been put together.

I guess the point that I am tryign to make is... it seems as if now a days... the comic book companies are exchanging "abilities" from one new super hero to the next.... dont you agree?

So I am thinking.. why should I get a slapped with a lawsuit for doing the same thing they are doing? They are mixing up color schemes... they are mixing up superhero abilities. Why can't I?

^^^Sorry for the rant^^^

dom42... do you have a website for your clothing line? it would be cool to see some of your other works!!!

fresh123... you are right about the incredibles and the fantastic four.. they all have the same abilities. the only difference that I see is.. instead of using the Fantastic Four colors (blue and white and black?), the Incredible colors are red yellow and black. Same powers and even same costume design!

I think the thing you just pointed out just really helped me (and others) out with fear of the same issues (copyright infringement) coming up! Thank you!
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So I am thinking.. why should I get a slapped with a lawsuit for doing the same thing they are doing?
Because they're big, you're small, and the world isn't fair.

fresh123... you are right about the incredibles and the fantastic four.. they all have the same abilities. [...] I think the thing you just pointed out just really helped me (and others) out with fear of the same issues (copyright infringement) coming up! Thank you!
This didn't go unnoticed at the time the film was released - it was actually controversial amongst comic book fans. Same thing with Heroes. It all seems unfair to me, but plenty of comic fans got irate about it. They're very, very loyal.

Anyway, I wouldn't take any comfort from what Disney does - do you really think you can get away with everything Disney can? You need to worry about what you can do, not what the Mouse gets up to.
If Marvel sues you, they pound you into the dirt like a bully.
If you represent yourself in court and have an adequate understanding of the law, it won't really cost you much. And if you have incorporated a company, then you are not personally liable for damages. If you are a small business, and you aren't blatantly stealing their stuff, there's only so much money they could get from you anyway.

AreYouAMac, people cannot copyright ideas, only the expression of it. A man with fire abilities is an idea, but if you made him look like human torch, then that's stealing the expression of it. The superhero thing gets kind of muddy because so many characters wear tights that it would be kind of ridiculous to copyright the uniform.

I don't know what your theme in your shirts are, but if you do a parody, then you can even draw something that looks very similar and you'd be protected under Fair Use in the US.
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