I am an absolute layman and unaware whether there are universally accepted (or something like the UN recommended) copyright laws or not and thus, I have not specified as to which copyright laws I am referring to. I would be glad to hear answers discussing any prominent copyright laws.

Ok, so the question is the following: If a painter (either for profitable or non-profitable purposes) wants to paint someone (either living, dead, or fictitious) then does she require a prior permission from the living person himself or the descendants of the dead person or the IP-right holders of the book to which the fictitious character belongs to? On one hand, it sounds completely ridiculous to need to have permission from, say, DiCaprio, if I want to make a painting of him. But in some cases, for example, in the case of some fictitious characters, the demand of the creator of the character to have a say in whether some product related to his character can go into the market or not might sound somewhat rational to, at least, some.

Things can go even more involved in some cases. For example, I might want to paint DiCaprio polluting the whole planet with a bunch of factories and even if DiCaprio might not have any problem with me making a simple painting of him, he might have some issues with me portraying him doing something he would never do. But I can, of course, argue that I have the right to portray my imaginations and I don't claim them to be real at all.

I would love to know what are the standard laws regarding these matters.


1 Answer 1



You can paint a picture of anyone you like, real or fictitious, however, you cannot copy another copyrighted work to do so. In the example of Leonardo diCaprio you are free to paint him from memory or from a sitting or from photographs you have taken - you are not permitted to paint him by relying on a still or moving image that you do not hold the copyright in or have the copyright holder's permission. For a fictitious character, a character from literature is fine (e.g. Dumbledore as described in the books) but a character that exits as an image isn't (e.g. Dumbledore from the movies - either of them).

Doing so is a prima facie breach of copyright law to which you may have a fair dealing/fair use defense depending on where the picture is produced/published.


Fictitious characters (e.g Micky Mouse) may be trademarks - the use to which you put your painting determines if there is a breach of trademark, not the creation of it.

Personality Rights

People like diCaprico have a right "to control the commercial use of his or her name, image, likeness, or other unequivocal aspects of one's identity."


If your painting damages the person's reputation, and you show it to someone who isn't you or them, then they can sue you for defamation.

  • Can someone sue the painter for defamation even if the painter explicitly mentions that her painting intends to represent purely an imaginary situation that she imagined about the real person?
    – stefan
    Commented Oct 25, 2017 at 1:54
  • Of course they can sue - they will win if a reasonable person would think it was defamatory, the author's intent is irrelevant except where actual malice matters
    – Dale M
    Commented Oct 25, 2017 at 2:51
  • Ok. Thanks for your answer. Are these the US laws or universally accepted laws (of course, by the most countries - not all)?
    – stefan
    Commented Oct 25, 2017 at 3:20
  • 2
    Copyright is pretty universal, trademarks only apply to the particular country and industry they are used in, personality rights are pretty universal across common law and civil law jurisdictions as is defamation but the US is the hardest country to win a defamation suit in.
    – Dale M
    Commented Oct 25, 2017 at 4:31

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .