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There are lots of attributes that are better covered by either a copyright or trademark, but suppose there is a business that makes movies, short films or games or comics uses and "Darth Vader" in their project (without permission) but visually makes them look very different. Does Lucasfilm's or Disney's (or whoever owns IP for Star Wars) copyrights protect against that usage?

If we were just dealing with an image or just dealing with a name, the answer would be clearer, but Darth Vader or Luke Skywalker or R2D2 (or other SW characters) are overall characters, not just an image nor just a name, but I don't know if it's a necessity that for such a name to be trademarked.

  • You have not provided a jurisdiction, and the answer may not be universal, but I posit that not only would copyright law protect the names, but that a prudent copyright holder might feel under pressure to pursue action so as to prevent trademark dilution - See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trademark_dilution for a broad overview of the subject. – davidgo Jul 23 '18 at 6:51
  • Sorry, it's the United States. I myself probably wouldn't want to see some random person messing around with characters from a story many like, but on the other hand...I can see the danger with making it so easy to copyright names as it is also just a name, and more so if the competing company makes the images completely different and the story somewhat different, a name like "Jeff Smith" is a name many actual real people have too and probably many characters. Maybe the frequency of use is important? – John Joe Jul 23 '18 at 6:59
  • Generic names like "Jeff Smith" are not going to be an issue - but your example did not use generic names - they used very specific names strongly and primarily associated with a series - How many "Vaders" or people named "Skywalker" do you know? – davidgo Jul 23 '18 at 7:09
  • You are right, but "how strongly" something is associated seems subject to opinion, isn't it? I guess that's why these matters would need to be settled in a court or trademark ruling in the first place. But you're saying that if a particular name is very strongly associated with relevant works which themselves are held under a specific copyright, that the court should protect the associated names even though names on their own normally have to be trademarked? – John Joe Jul 23 '18 at 8:02
  • Except you specifically mentioned LucasFilm/Disney. This is not a corner case like "McDonalds" where the last name is McDonald and the usage is clearly unrelated to selling burgers. Further - regardless of the merits, what makes you think a company like Disney - who has bought legislation (Micky Mouse Protection Act) is not going to go after you? – davidgo Jul 23 '18 at 8:08
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Copyright law will not protect the name. Trademark law will.

  • If you copyright a movie or book then it still should protect the established unique characters in that movie or book. – John Joe Jul 24 '18 at 15:39
  • Maybe it should, but it doesn't. It protects the movie against copying, but it doesn't protect against copying a name someone uses in the movie, as that isn't making a copy of the copyrighted work. That sort of thing is pretty squarely housed in trademark territory. – bdb484 Jul 25 '18 at 0:08
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    Actually, a better way to put it would be to say that copyright only protects certain types of works. This includes literary works, dramatic works, and screenplays, but a simple name, no matter how creative, is probably never going to independently constitute a protected work. – bdb484 Jul 25 '18 at 0:52
  • So again I'm explicitly not asking if you can only copyright a name itself because obviously you can't. I'm asking if a copyrighted work that has a unique and established character with a probably-unique name, in the event someone else were to try and monetize that name in a similar way (like book vs book or game vs game), if that name would be protected as part of the original overall copyrighted work of the movie or book or game that the given character is a part of. – John Joe Jul 25 '18 at 4:47
  • Under copyright law, the original creator would have no remedy. Under trademark law, he would. – bdb484 Jul 25 '18 at 5:37
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A character as a whole in a copyrighted work can be protected by a copyright. If you create a work using a character with the same name, and similar characteristics, including physical description, style of expression, type of action, etc, then your work may well be considered a derivative work of the original one(s) where the character appears, as so be an infringement of the copyright on that work (or works). In fact a character which copies several but not all of those things might be enough to cause a copyright issue. However the name alone, if used for a character quite different in description, manner, etc, would not infringe copyright.

However, if the name is a trademark (and I strongly suspect that "Darth Vader" and 'Luke Skywalker" are so protected), then use of it to sell good or services, including a book or film, might well be trademark infringement.

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