Do fictitious characters have intellectual property rights? Yes argues Geoff Gerber of the Anchor Plate. If you think you can profit from piggy-backing on the fame of Mickey Mouse, Luke Skywalker or Kermit the Frog, you may be asking for legal trouble. For an interesting discussion of Kermit’s intellectual property rights, see “Character of the Week: Kermit the Frog,” where Mr. Gerber states:
Just as with any real-life celebrity, the fame associated with Kermit is a valuable, intangible property. Intellectual-property law protects that value in a number of ways. The two main ways in which IP law protects characters are copyright and trademark.
- Each of the works in which Kermit is depicted is protected by copyright. And, when a character is sufficiently defined, courts have recognized that copyright law may protect a character from unauthorized copying
- A character may also be protected trademark. If a character is sufficiently distinct, it may serve as a symbol to designate the source or origin of goods or services. This happens most often, but not exclusively in the context of merchandising