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It is my understanding that since fictional characters generally belong to copyrighted works, revealing details about a fictional character on a for-profit website falls outside of fair use and makes the site owner vulnerable to a lawsuit.

My question is, would it be considered fair use to have a page for a fictional character, where no details are listed other than the character's name? The point would be for users to simply rate the character.

One concern I have is that perhaps the name itself could be considered "details" of the work, and therefore might not fall under fair use.

Important: Pages may also have a user-added image of the character. I profit by selling adspace through AdSense.

  • The character's name and image are copyrighted. Does using those for profit have a fair-use exemption? – feetwet Aug 27 '15 at 19:01
  • @feetwet Actually I believe the images to be a non-issue, because users are adding them, so they should be protected under the DMCA. But are you saying that having a page consisting of just a character's name is copyright violation? How is that different from a page with just, say, an episode title? – Jeff Caros Aug 27 '15 at 19:27
  • I thought your question asserted that "the character is copyrighted." I should have read more carefully: If the name alone isn't protected there's no problem. If it is protected I suppose it would more likely be via trademark, in which case the rules of use are different and, AFAIK, referring to the trademark without confusing customers doesn't infringe. – feetwet Aug 27 '15 at 19:41
  • So you're saying that even if the work is copyrighted, simply referring to a character from it counts as fair use, as long as I don't supply any additional information? – Jeff Caros Aug 27 '15 at 20:23
  • I don't know. I don't mean to answer the question. I just wanted to clarify it (and also see if you might have already had the answer without realizing it). – feetwet Aug 27 '15 at 20:26
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If you are utilizing the name of the characters just so users can rate them (by rate - I mean rank, review, critique) you should be fine. Copyrights are subject to "fair use" by the public. For purposes such as review, criticism, and comment - this is generally considered to be fair use.

Is the site commercial or for-profit? That could impact the analysis, but only if you are making money flowing from the use of the actual copyrighted material(s), rather than advertising (like Adsense) or something similar (this should not suggest that those type sites cannot violate copyright, but it's part of the analysis).

If it is something you are investing money into creating, you may want to get a formal legal opinion. But if the site if for fun, or hobby, you are likely fine if what's described is the only use.

http://www.socialmediaexaminer.com/copyright-fair-use-and-how-it-works-for-online-images/

This link is to a great, easy to read and understand article on fair use, what it is and what it allows.

Keep in mind each case is fact intensive, however, from what you are describing this seems fine.

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This post is based on US law: It would depend on the source of the image. If you create the image then that would not be an issue but, if you use an already created by someone else and that person did not license it to you then it would be a copyright infringement that you probably could not avoid on a fair use defense. In regards to the character's name, that is a trademark which you could probably reference as what you are suggesting would be commentary and/or criticism.

I am not a lawyer. This is not legal advice. Before acting upon legal information found online consult a certified practitioner of law.

  • " If you create the image then that would not be an issue " this is incorrect, any such image would probably be a derivative work of the original image, or of the writen description if there is no original image. It would therfore be subject to the copyright of the original creator. – David Siegel Oct 5 '18 at 16:56
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A fictional character's name, like a book or comic's title, and other short phrases, is not subject to copyright at all under US law, although in some cases it will be protected as a trademark. trademarks protect against use of a mark when selling a product or service, but do not prevent discussion of the trademarked item. Otherwise review sites could not legally exist.

An image of a fictional character, whether directly copied from an image created by someone else, or newly created in imitation of an existing image, is probably a copyright infringement. The newly created image would be a derivative work and so still subject to copyright protection. if the image is being used to identify the character as a subject of commentary, then it might be fair use, but that depends on the details of the situation.

It is not accurate that "revealing details about a fictional character on a for-profit website falls outside of fair use and makes the site owner vulnerable to a lawsuit." If details are revealed for purposes of commentary and criticism, that is very likely to fall under fair use, whether or not a profit is made. One could have a for-pay review site in which various fictional characters are described and reviewed, and the quality of their fictional presentation is discussed, and that would likely be fair use. Whether "details" are "revealed" is not the test for whether something falls under fair use or not. How much of the copyrighted work is used, whether the use harms the market for the original, whether the use is "transformative", and the nature and purpose of the use all matter.

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