To avoid revealing context of my question I will use an example.

Let's say I have a business, could be plumbing electrical consultation whatever. And to promote my business I come up with a gimmick or slogan of.... Idk... "Ironclad work from ironclass workers." I like my slogan and what it represents for my company, so I take the basic structure of iron Man's helmet, change a few of the lines, maybe space the eyes and nose differently, and render it in new colors and textures to reflect the element of my business. We will say that my business is steel work. So now I have a logo for my company with my company's name and my company slogan and the only thing I'm taking amuse from is the overall design of iron Man's helmet. Very clipart and plane. The ultimate basis of my question is... How much do I need to strip from the original copyrighted character, in order to avoid copyright infringement in this particular case? Another simple example would be to make SpongeBob SquarePants a wider rectangle with red pants and green skin with no holes.... How abstract does the new character need to be so that it does not cross copyright infringement? Especially with a company like Disney.

Can I create my own costume of my own character with his own background that follows the similar guidelines of the character iron Man? How many of those characteristics do I need to alter?

1 Answer 1


When ‘the work as a whole or any substantial part of it’ has no longer been copied

Ideas are not subject to copyright, only the expression of ideas is. So, the idea of a flying, armoured superhero is not subject to copyright but if it looks, talks, or acts too much like Ironman - that’s copyright violation.

Similarly, an iron helmet can only look so many ways before it won’t work as a helmet. At the same time, Ironman’s helmet, both as drawn in the comics, used in the movies, and as a stylised icon are so distinctive as to be instantly recognisable and anything that looks like that will at least raise the suspicion of copyright violation.

Your “wider rectangle with red pants and green skin with no holes” is copyright violation if it looks too much like SpongeBob SquarePants:

SpongeBob SquarePants

But BMO isn’t a copyright violation because, while looking a lot like SBSP, the inspiration is obviously something else - namely a portable game console:


There is no way to know in advance what is acceptable and what isn’t - it’s ultimately up to the judge based on the evidence in a particular case. This article includes things that judges have said in the past. Many of these will be binding on other judges but the exact position of the line is subject to the reasonable person test - looking at all the evidence, would a reasonable person say this is a copy or not.

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