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Copyright of characters

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1909 Copyright Act Edit

Under the 1909 Copyright Act, which was in force until January 1, 1978, a fictional character might arguably have achieved copyright protection as a "component part" of a work.[1]

1976 Copyright Act Edit

In the 1976 Copyright Act, Congress did away with separate copyright protection for components of works. Under current U.S. copyright law, copyright protection extends only to "original works of authorship" that are “fixed” in a “tangible medium of expression.”[2]

Graphically depicted characters, unlike literary characters, might qualify separately under the Act’s inclusion of "pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works" in the list of protectable works of authorship.[3] Purely literary characters, however, like other non-tangible concepts found within a literary work, are not independently copyrightable.

Congress has rejected proposals to extend copyright protection to fictional characters, following the recommendation of the Register of Copyrights:

Proposals have been advanced for identifying fictional characters as copyrightable works in themselves under the bill. . . . As is equally true in the case of detailed presentations of plot setting, or dramatic action, we believe it would be unnecessary and misleading to specify fictional characters as a separate class of copyrightable works.[4]

It is a longstanding practice of the U.S. Copyright Office to refuses to register characters.[5]

References Edit

  1. 17 U.S.C. §3 (1976) ("The copyright provided by this title shall protect all the copyrightable component parts of the work copyrighted, and all matter therein in which copyright is already subsisting, but without extending the duration or scope of such copyright.").
  2. 17 U.S.C. §102.
  3. Id.
  4. Supplemental Report of the Register of Copyrights on the General Revision of U.S. Copyright Law: 1965 Revision Bill, 89 Cong., 1st Sess. (1965) (quoted in Melville B. Nimmer & David Nimmer, Nimmer on Copyright §2.12 (1999)).
  5. See Compendium of Copyright Office Practices II §202.02(1) ("The copyright law does not provide for the copyright registration of characters as such. However, original works of authorship describing, depicting, or embodying a character are registrable if otherwise in order.").

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