I sometimes insert copyrighted fictional character's images from a franchise on the rarest of error screens ("should never happen" type of thing). This time though, I work for a company, making their internal software, not as a hobby.

While no-one will probably ever see the fictional copyrighted character in question, and even if so, it's there jokingly and is not in any way related to operation of the professional software I'm making, does it fit under fair use? Is legality of this something that I should worry about?

Edit: What if the image in question is my own drawing of the character?

  • For error dialogs you should not put in jokes. Keep it professional. That's not a legal answer obviously, but it would be best to do it anyway. Windows's "frowny face" image on the blue screen of death is an example of what not to do. – Brandin Mar 14 '18 at 12:05
  • I use it in situations where it's clearly user's fault and he did something he knows he shouldn't do, like disconnect cables during critical operations. It gives a sense of "nothing-will-catch-fire-because-clearly-its-accounted-for". /offtopic – loa_in_ Mar 14 '18 at 12:19
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    Its copyright infringement because you are distributing images of the character through your code. Even when no one actually sees the character, its still in the code/asset files – Shazamo Morebucks Mar 14 '18 at 16:04

No, it does not fall under fair use:

  1. It is commercial use in nature
  2. It is a copyrighted work
  3. It is hard to say what portion of the copyrighted work you'd be using based on your description, so test three is inconclusive
  4. It could be argued in your favor that the infringement would not have an impact on their potential market, but it could potentially impact the value

If discovered the owner of the copyright could pursue action against the company you work for.

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  • "If discovered the owner of the copyright could pursue action against the company you work for." That could be a really "loud" bug/error report... given the circumstances it'd be seen under. – loa_in_ Mar 14 '18 at 15:59
  • What if the image in question is my own fan art? – loa_in_ Mar 14 '18 at 16:59
  • I don't know what the status of the fan art would be. I'd suggest checking with the legal counsel for your company about it. – Jason Aller Mar 14 '18 at 17:39

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