Information: Cartoon Characters
There is copyright protection in all artistic works including photographs, illustrations, cartoons and cartoon characters (see Information Sheet 14 on Graphic Designs).
In some cases cartoon characters may also be registered as trade marks affording them additional protection.
The copyright owner’s consent is needed before a reproduction of a copyright protected work may legally be made.
Reproducing cartoon characters from photographs or from films stills is inadvisable even if the character has been subsequently added to or turned into some other type of work.
These rules apply in the USA as well as in European countries as both are members of the same international copyright conventions.
Clearance should be sought for the use of the work before any reproduction is made. Unless contact information for the artist is provided alongside the cartoon it is normally easiest to contact the publisher in whose publication the cartoon appeared.
In the case of films, clearance or contact details for the rights owner can be obtained via the distributors in the first instance. If they do not have the necessary rights, they will generally be in a position to say who does. Trade marks also need to be cleared.
For Disney characters, it is probably best to contact the Walt Disney Company direct. In the UK, Allsorts Media Limited licence characters such as Betty Boop and Popeye on behalf of King Features. King Features website is www.kingfeatures.com and Allsorts Media can be contacted on 01234 212411/211601.
It is not safe to assume that a cartoon is unprotected simply because the artist has been dead for more than 70 years. Although this is the case with copyright, there may be other ways in which characters are protected, e.g. by means of trade marks, which potentially last indefinitely.