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A French book about Star Wars recently came out, giving a psychological approach on the films and characters. The book doesn't contain images, but on the cover, the Star Wars logo is visible, and there's a drawing of Sigmund Freud holding Darth Vader's helmet. I believe the names of the characters are used throughout the book, as well as names of planets, spaceships, or other fictional elements from the films.

I believe the author thinks they are in their own right to use these elements, and I assume the publishing company also did some research before putting out this book.

But I also know that Lucasfilms and Disney love suing all sorts of people, from their own former employees to Ronald Reagan.

To me, the line isn't clear between the two. So I am wondering if this use of the Star Wars universe respects copyright and trademarks regulations, and on what legal grounds. (I am asking because I would like to write and sell derivative works as well, and I don't know how I could be sure to never break a law).

EDIT: I asked the author yesterday if they had to pay to use the trademarked logo, derivative visuals, etc, and he said "Copyrights for Star Wars only applies to images taken from the film. Not on the logo, font or drawing inspired from".

JURIDICTION: France & USA

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    Just out of curiosity, do we know for certain the author/publisher didn't get permission and/or agree to pay to use what elements they did? – Patrick87 Sep 25 '15 at 12:06
  • We don't. This question should ask how this use might be legal (that is, what steps need to be taken to make it legal). That is answerable, and would appear to be the real question OP wants answered anyway. – Andrew Leach Sep 25 '15 at 13:45
  • @AndrewLeach I edited my question. For me there's a difference between what the author believes and the regulations of the logo which seems to be a trademark (TM is often written alongside it) and references / copyrighted words (cf the lawsuits link) – MicroMachine Sep 25 '15 at 18:32
  • Quite. The assertion that the logo is not copyrightable is palpably false; it is. And if it's used as a trademark (which it probably is), it gets additional protection. – Andrew Leach Sep 25 '15 at 19:49
  • @AndrewLeach do you know how to search the US trademark database? I tried but get confused. Maybe it's protected as a trademark for many products but not books? Unlikely but I couldn't find out... Hoping someone will come with a full fledged answer soon, very curious... :) – MicroMachine Sep 25 '15 at 20:12
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The Paris Treaty

The Paris Treaty for the Protection of Industrial Property ("the Treaty") provides uniform protection for trademarks for all states party to the treaty. This includes France and the United States of America.

Trademarks

Lucasfilm Entertainment Company Ltd. LLC ("the Rightsholder") holds trademarks on many trademarks related to "Star Wars" ("the Marks/Mark"), including that for printed material (this means books, comics, etc.). I can't link to a search on Trademark Electronic Search System, but if you search for Star Wars and select live, you'll get a list of them.

Tortious damage in France

  1. Every act whatever of man that causes damage to another, obliges him by whose fault it occurred to repair it.

  2. We are responsible not only for the damage occasioned by our own act, but also by our own negligence or imprudence.

Note that my French isn't good enough to read the code and translate it myself; I'm relying on this translation.

French Civil Code 1382 and 1383 provide for damages to be awarded for tortious acts - this would include the common law principle of "passing off".

You need to prove that:

  1. A person faulted and caused damage
  2. The author was harmed - this can be violation of their moral rights
  3. There is some causal relation between the fault and the harm

Also, please note that I haven't exhaustively searched for French law that may permit this use. However, it seems unlikely, given France's ratification of the Treaty.


The Rightsholder has the sole right to use the Marks to identify his or her products, services, or brand. The Treaty provides for protection in all of its States party.

As the Rightsholder has registered the Marks in the United States, France is obliged to afford it protections under the Treaty.

French Civil Code permits a person to bring a suit for damages. If it can be shown that this use of the Star Wars Mark has caused them harm, which may include loss of income, then the infringer may be ordered to pay damages to the Rightsholder.

Of course, this only applies if the author of this book did not receive permission from the Rightsholder to publish it. If they did, then there is no wrong.

  • Great answer. As I said in a later edit of the question, they claim not to have asked for permission believing that no permission is needed outside using photos from the film – MicroMachine Sep 26 '15 at 20:28
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You are confusing two separate concepts: trademark and copyright. I'll give you a broad overview of both of these, although the details will differ depending on what country's law we're talking about.

A copyright is held by the creator of a work of artistic expression. It gives the creator certain exclusive rights, including the right to create copies of the work and to prepare derivative works.

For example: The movie "Star Wars" is a work of artistic expression. You cannot copy "Star Wars," or any significant part of it--including the script, the music, etc.--without the permission of the copyright owner, unless your use fits into one of the exceptions to copyright in your jurisdiction.

Likewise, you cannot write your own book featuring the Star Wars characters: that would be a derivative work, a work based on the original work, and would violate the rights of the copyright holder.

Without having read the book in question, I'm not going to comment on whether it does or doesn't infringe the film's copyright. But ideas can't be copyrighted. A film review, for instance, isn't a copyright violation--and a longer work discussing the ideas involved in a film isn't necessarily a copyright violation, either. Copyright only protects the expression itself--the language, the images. You are very limited in how much of that you can copy, but as long as you're using your own words, copyright protection is less of a concern.

Trademarks, on the other hand, are intended to protect a business from customer confusion. Trademarks are not protected in the same way as copyrights; the key analysis of a trademark infringement lawsuit is: does it create confusion about the origin of the goods? For example: if you slap a swoosh on a shoe, Nike will sue you. If you use a swoosh in a political cartoon criticizing Nike, they won't, because nobody is going to think Nike wrote the political cartoon.

So: If you write a book and call it: "Ewoks Gone Wild: A Star Wars Story," Disney will sue you, because it would be reasonable for someone who saw that book in a store to think that Disney authorized that book. If you wrote a book called "Forcing the Issue: The Hermeneutics of Science Fiction Movies from Star Wars to Inception", the case would be less clear-cut.

But the important thing to understand is that these issues are complicated. There are exceptions to these rules; there are applications that may not be obvious to the non-lawyer ("initial interest confusion" is one minefield in U.S. trademark law), there are national and EU-specific considerations, there are safe harbors, and there are practical considerations, like whether you can afford to fight a lawsuit even if you're in the right.

Therefore, I'm not going to tell you whether your hypothetical work would infringe anyone's copyright or trademark, and I'm not going to give you a set of rules on how to avoid it. The only person you should be listening to that sort of advice from is a real, non-anonymous-internet lawyer, licensed to practice in your jurisdiction, who is familiar with the specific details of your specific situation.

  • Illuminating answer (as always). However, to be fair: The question asks about a real, third-party work, not a hypothetical work as you suggest in your last paragraph. – feetwet Sep 30 '15 at 0:27
  • The French book is the real, third-party work. The hypothetical work I was talking about were the "derivative works" s/he said s/he wanted to write. – chapka Sep 30 '15 at 0:29

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