Ok, this is going to sound weird, but I didn't have any better forum to ask this on. Me and a friend are working on a sort of Horror/Comedy.

A basic plot rundown: Ronald Mcdonald is a crazy lunatic who acts as the guardian of McDonalds, and will protect it at all costs. Yes, he tries to kill the Main Character.

We plan for this to be posted on YouTube, with credit to Mcdonalds in the credits, and in the video description. It will be free to watch, and we won't make any profit from it at all. Is it legal to do this, or is it an infringement on copyright?

  • 1
    The lack of a profit is not a defense to intellectual property infringement.
    – ohwilleke
    Aug 3 at 1:35
  • @ohwilleke, surely somewhere in this the 1st amendment right to produce art allows this sort of parody. Where is the line drawn? Aug 3 at 1:39
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    @MichaelHall There are protections for parody. The point I was making is that making or not making a profit isn't decisive or even a very important factor. Protections for parody likewise aren't different if the production is for profit rather than not for profit (e.g. as a hobby). Many people believe that the law makes a strong distinction between the two which it does not.
    – ohwilleke
    Aug 3 at 1:42

2 Answers 2


Not the show you describe

Ronald McDonald is a trademark, and his appearance is copyright owned by the McDonalds corporation. That means that subject to an exemption, only McDonalds can decide what happens with Ronald McDonald.

As described, you are going to use Ronald McDonald, not a generic clown that evokes Ronald McDonald in a comedy/horror. The most relevant exception that springs to mind is the trademark Parody exemption (and a similar exemption that exists for copyright fair use).

Your movie doesn't appear to be a parody - the idea of a murderous clown protecting a burger chain is not, on its face, a parody of McDonalds. That is, it might be funny (or not) on its own terms, but it is not obviously poking fun at McDonalds which is the essence of parody. Obviously, your plot outline is brief and perhaps the full script is an incisive commentary on the way McDonalds is doing ... something.

Further, famous marks have extra protection - works that tarnish the mark are more likely to be considered infringing. Tarnishment happens when a distinctive mark is depicted in a context of sexual activity, obscenity or illegal activity. You know, like a crazy lunatic murderer.

Compare and contrast with this parody:

Krusty Burger

This evokes McDonalds but it doesn't use any of their trademarks or copyrighted material and it also evokes other fast-food restaurants. The parody elements are clear: it clearly isn't McDonalds; it only uses as much material as necessary to get the audience to make the link; the joke is about fast-food restaurants: their sameness, teen-worker-exploitation, promotions, crap food etc.

When they do explicitly compare Krusty Burger with McDonalds the joke is about McDonalds:

Lou: Y'know, I went to the McDonald's in, uh, Shelbyville on Friday night.

Chief Wiggum: The McWhat?

Lou: Uh, the McDonald's restaurant. I never heard of it either, but they have over 2,000 locations in this state alone.

Eddie: Hmm. Must have sprung up overnight.

Lou: You know the funniest thing though? It's the little differences.

Chief Wiggum: Example.

Lou: Well, at McDonald's you can buy a Krusty Burger with cheese, right? But they don't call it a Krusty Burger with cheese.

Chief Wiggum: Get out… well what do they call it?

Lou: A Quarter Pounder with cheese.

Chief Wiggum: A Quarter Pounder with cheese? Well I can picture the cheese, but… uh. Do they have Krusty Partially Gelatinated Non-Dairy Gum Based Beverages?

Lou: Mmm hmm, they call 'em Shakes.

Eddie: Huh, shakes. You don't know what you're gettin'.

  • I'm not so sure, I have seen several parodies that take a darker tone, yet have not had any legal issues. I saw a short film a while back that portrayed the character of Mario as a phychopathic, blood-thirsty, murderer. Aug 3 at 2:30
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    Parodies can be dark - but they have to be parodies. I will also point out that the plural of "anecdote" is "anecdotes", not data - I've seen people not stopping at stop signs; doesn't make it legal.
    – Dale M
    Aug 3 at 2:33
  • What I am doing is not too far different from what I saw in that video. Also, what do I need to do to make a parody legal? In other words, what do I need to say? Do I need to do anything other than give McDonalds credit? Aug 3 at 2:39
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    @SmartBaby62623 those are questions you should ask your lawyer
    – Dale M
    Aug 3 at 5:32
  • 1
    Might be worthwhile asking McDonald's lawyers before you invest time and money. If they say "do this and we will sue you" then getting sued alone might be too costly, legal or not. Best to ask your lawyer about that.
    – gnasher729
    Aug 4 at 12:23

Ronald McDonald is not a copyrighted work, it is a trademark. Possibly, the clown outfit is an artistic work which could be protected by copyright. If your chosen outfit looks too much like the real clown suit, you might get sued for artistic infringement, in which case you could avail yourself of a fair use defense, pointing to the social commentary nature of your use.

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