Copyright-problems when selling props?

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tripoli

Master Member
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Few issues to note: Matt Munsons noting not to do anything is incorrect. if you want to produce something new an unique, ask the questions, find out what is the right and wrong things to do from an audience who has already taken the steps and mis steps. To do otherwise would stifle any new item to be produced. You DO need to be aware of what has been copyrighted /trademarked or patented. By knowing that Lucas does have a copyright on Light Sabers, you should know better than to market your sabers as such. But that does not stop you from giving it a different name for marketing such. There are legal saber makers out there.

Aragorn's note that once it is written or produced is somewhat correct, Once it is publicly noted or privately documented, you technically have the copyright but another documented source MUST be made of it in order for you to make that claim in defense. Most companies will have a locked intellectual property documentation file room for such.

Hydin's note that everything is a copyright infraction is also not quite correct, the studios do protect some items with trademarks and patents as well, especially when an item is manufactured for mass marketing and individual licensees usually control such more than the studios do due to cost of protection.

As noted, intellectual property rights are not evil, it protects the creator so they can profit from their work. Without such most people would never go to the expense and work to create something someone else could immediately profit off of. It is the bedrock of capitalism.

Copyrights after 1978 last the lifetime of the author PLUS 70 years after their death. Before 78, there are several legal factors as to how long it last, depending on the type of item and how it was filed with the government. Trademarks last as long as they are renewed. A basic trademark before 1989 last 20 years, after 1989 they have 10 years of a lifetime. Patents last now 20 years but it takes up to three years to get a government approval which shortens such to a usual 17 year lifespan of protected marketing. Before 1995, they had a 17 year lifetime. You can amend such during the lifespan or make the definition of the item a bit ambiguous to cover more areas of a patented item. It is a legal art to do such to protect a broader range of products produced.

I gave an hour and a half legal dissertation last semester and was told it was one of the best in 20 years, got me an A. The subject was the intellectual property protection of the Lights Saber. :)
 
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tripoli

Master Member
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Just to note as well, Lucas copyrighted the Qui-Gon and Maul saber. These were general copyrights, meaning the concept of a one bladed light saber and two bladed light saber were the issue.

Parks has copyrighted his own as well and even a board member, Squirk has his own copyrighted design based on the individual characteristics of the saber design.
Qui-Gon Jinn Lightsaber / Lucas Studios
Darth Maul Lightsaber / Lucas Studios
Squirk lightsaber / Private design
Shadow lightsaber / Parks Sabers
Magnum lightsaber / Parks Sabers
Rogue lightsaber / Parks Sabers


Trademarks file date June 15, 2000, Published for opposition June 5, 2001,Registration date October 7, 2003, 76072226 and 73149409.
Copyrights: Type of Work: Visual Material Registration Number / Date: VA0000971210 / 1999-09-14 Application Title: Star Wars: episode I, the Phantom Menace--Qui-Gon Jinn Lightsaber. Title: Qui-Gon Jinn Lightsaber. Description: Sculpture + product packaging. Series: Star Wars episode I Copyright Claimant: Lucasfilm, Ltd. Date of Creation: 1999 Date of Publication: 1999-05-03 Copyright Note: C.O. correspondence. Names: Lucasfilm, Ltd.
Copyright: Type of Work: Visual Material Registration Number / Date: VA0000971209 / 1999-09-14 Application Title: Star Wars: episode I, the Phantom Menace--Darth Maul Lightsaber. Title: Darth Maul Lightsaber. Description: Sculpture + product packaging. Series: Star Wars episode I Copyright Claimant: Lucasfilm, Ltd. Date of Creation: 1999 Date of Publication: 1999-05-03 Copyright Note: C.O. correspondence. Names: Lucasfilm, Ltd.

The Current Trademark: Reg. Number 1126220
Transfer of Ownership (Registrant) Twentieth Century-Fox Corporation
(Last Listed Owner before Fox) LUCASFILM Entertainment Company Ltd. Corporation
 
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Davlin

Well-Known Member
Tripoli, thank you for this long explanation. While on the Sabers subject it's pretty clear, could you please go into deeper details about the fact that studios do not own the IP to everything, which sounds weird to me ?

In a movie or a game, everything that happen on screen is the IP of the studio, right ? Or do they need to file the IP for each and every stuff that are showing onscreen, for them to protect those ?
 

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tripoli

Master Member
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Anything created and produced by the studio can be considered the intellectual property, unless by contract another person/company has controlling rights from the creation or production of that item. This is a common practice as a large film contracts many of the production aspects out to other companies to put the entire process together into a final product. A prop maker may have exclusive rights to the prop they make for a movie, yet it is publicly identified with the movie and studio. Another example can be a company may own the rights to the programming and process that created a special effect used in the film. The art and conceptual design may still be considered owned by the studio.
A studio may retain the rights yet license another company to produce a replica. That company may then then put resources into R&D and the design for production. They then may patent a design based on the work that it takes to produce the item. This is done to protect the elements of design, such as an led saber versus a indeglo blade design which could make it unique on the market.

Anything produced on the movie screen or computer game screen is created and marketed and is intellectual property of that creator. They can transfer that property just like any other tangible item to another if they want to. They can also choose to legally protect it or to let the public have access, that is their choice to do so. But generally, when you do not protect the property, it can be hard to do so later on legally.

Any written work, art work or computer program is considered copyrighted material even if a formal copyright has not been filed. However, if you are making money on an item, you MUST document the creation and marketing of the item to protect yourself legally. Having a documentation on the public release is fine. A filed copyright shows the documented date of creation and the process granting you solid rights to the item in question. But it is not always needed to do given the cost involved. If I was an author of a book, I would forgo the cost. Same possibly for artwork although I have seen case studies of smaller know artist work taken by larger firms and the legal cost to defend being almost impossible to take on by the artist. Registering a piece can eliminate an expensive process of proving who is in the right. Programs can be different due to the process of coding and it may pay to protect such.

Some times a company will create a process or item and will not want to go through the cost to protect the property. As long as they document the process and internally protect it through non disclosure agreements with employees, they can protect their intellectual property. At this point, the company has what is called a trade secret. Generally, larger companies will have an IP storage file room with such documentation. Patent are especially expensive to file for and you have to produce so much to make that item pay off the cost involved. A special process in producing a product is considered a trade secret, whether it be a manufacturing process or the ingredients to baking a certain food. As long as it is not publicly released, you are within your rights not not make it public and to try to protect that property from public disclosure and use.

If you have a patentable property and sell it in the market without patenting the item, after one year of sales, it becomes un-patentable. This happened with Dipping Dots which decided after a few years to patent the process after another competitor came out with a similar product. Dipping Dot lost the lawsuit because they had not protected the process within a year of selling their product to the public.

Filing for a patent makes an item available to the public eye, another reason why companies may not want to file a patent. A competitor cannot duplicate the item or process once it is patented and once it does go through the process of certification, you do retain rights from the time of the filing. But that filing grey area can be an issue for a competitor. They may try to file in another country, hope that the patent is rejected, or that the process is dropped (business cannot afford to continue, may have found a better way, etc), so there are certain risk with filing a patent. For a large company it usually is not a problem, but for smaller start ups in which IP is key, it can be a huge issue. The filing goes through a 6 month public search and vetting to make sure no other patent is violated by the new filing. Right before the six month mark, you can file a special request to have the filing not published/processed further in the public eye, which allows for some protection from the public.

International filings are on whole, another huge issue of complications. The complexities just expand on a completely new level. With the issue of copying from country to country and globalized marketing (China being infamous for doing so), intellectual property and the protection of such is becoming a very serious issue for companies to have to consider.
 
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tripoli

Master Member
RPF PREMIUM MEMBER
An article I reference in my talk about Lucas Studios:
Legal News
Jedi lawyer watches over Star Wars empire
15th Dec 2009
David Anderman insists that he has never been bored during his 11 years with his current employer - Lucasfilm, the production company founded in 1971 by Star Wars creator George Lucas.

In 1973, Lucasfilm released its second feature film, American Graffiti. Made on a $750,000 (£460,000) budget, the movie grossed more than $100m (£61m), and Lucasfilm has since grown to become one of the world's leading entertainment companies.

Anderman's role as general counsel means he is the point person for any and all legal issues faced by the company. His team handles transactions with licensees and forges agreements with talent and their agents. Legal details connected with distribution deals are on the menu, as are issues regarding production work that Lucas performs for other studios and the company's game division.

Anderman considers himself an intellectual property (IP) specialist who became a generalist at Lucasfilm. "Every day is a masterclass on the edges of IP law," he says, noting that, workwise, almost everything he does touches upon IP and IP-related licensing deals. On one occasion, he helped match the licensing of two brands; thus was born the 'Darth Tater' - a combination of the Darth Vader and Mr Potato Head characters.

As enforcer of Lucasfilm's worldwide IP, Anderman sometimes assumes the role of litigator. Advertising, normally the responsibility of the marketing and public relations departments, occasionally spills over into the legal department. Anderman has union-related duties with subsidiary company Skywalker Sound, which works in conjunction with the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees.

Every year or two, legal work related to location filming comes his way. There are insurance issues for the group to resolve. The day-to-day operation of Skywalker Ranch, Lucas's California production facility, brings legal activity as well. From time to time, he meets with Lucas himself, primarily during board of directors meetings.

Lucasfilm's 25-member legal department includes eight lawyers. Eight paralegals, called contract administrators, and a versatile support staff round out the operation. This relatively small in-house group is augmented by outside lawyers with a wide range of expertise.

Morrison & Foerster is the company's go-to firm, both in the US and globally, and it helps manage Lucasfilm's trademark portfolio, anti-piracy efforts and real estate transactions. Anderman maintains relationships with external lawyers in San Francisco, Los Angeles and around the globe. He says he hires them based on their ability and history with Lucasfilm.

The company has registered trademarks in more than 100 countries and maintains a production facility in Singapore. Immigration-related duties come into play involving its Singapore-based employees. "Our local counsel know the ins and outs of our business," Anderman says. Lucasfilm has many licensees in China that manufacture Star Wars merchandise.

Managing the Star Wars brand is an essential element of Anderman's job. He tries to encourage devotees' enthusiasm while protecting the Lucas brands.

Anderman cites an example of how the general counsel of "a company at the intersection of entertainment and technology" explores the boundaries of trademark and copyright law. Last year, US comedian Stephen Colbert presented the 'Star Wars Green Screen Challenge' on his TV show The Colbert Report. The contest centred around homemade digital movies featuring the comedian using a Jedi light saber. The situation arose after footage of Colbert jumping around with a light saber found its way onto the internet. Rather than having the legal department intervene and shut down the Colbert video, Lucasfilm and Colbert Report broadcaster Comedy Central agreed to launch the contest. The winner was "a random guy from Ohio," whose entry defeated the effort of "George L from Marin County" - actually George Lucas, Anderman said.

In determining "what is fair use and what is fan use," Anderman and his team turned what could have been treated as a case of infringement into a positive public-relations event, he says.

Anderman launched his career as an IP litigator in Silicon Valley. He practised at legacy firm Brown & Bain, now part of Seattle-based Perkins Coie, doing some work for the Lucas companies. In 1996, he moved to Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe. A partner who he had worked at Brown & Bain asked if he would like to submit his resume to Lucas for an opportunity that had just opened. Anderman interviewed at Skywalker Ranch and, in 1998, became Lucasfilm's associate director of business affairs.

Lucasfilm's many subsidiaries keep evolving, and the company is "always on the cutting edge," Anderman said. Lucas consummated the first deal for digital cinema in 1998. Digital technology has been applied to all of its recent activities, including the second Star Wars trilogy, animated television shows, the movie and TV series Star Wars: The Clone Wars and live-action TV. The company's special effects are state-of-the-art, and it pioneered interactive role-playing video games. Anderman is thrilled to be along for the ride.
 
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Tan Djarka

Sr Member
Tripoli, you seem to be in the know on this subject, so I'll ask you about something that's been a point of contention:

If you build one and only one copy of something for your personal collection, never to be sold or transferred in any way shape or form, does that constitute "fair use", and is therefore legal?
 

tripoli

Master Member
RPF PREMIUM MEMBER
Sorry, did not see this until the subject was brought up in another thread.

Any copying of intellectual property, even for your own use can constitute a breach in IP law. If you are using it to make money or to manufacture an item for profit, the originating IP owner has the right to come after you for damages.
If you are using something for your own personal use, there is still the ability by the intellectual property owner to pursue you for that use. To make this absolutely clear, if you are gaining benefit of their work and property, they have that right to pursue you in court.

Most companies are not going to pursue the hobbyist prop maker for making a personal collection. The cost of doing so is high and the recovery of damages is unlikely. Paramount learned that lesson in the late 70's with the Star Trek fans as well it was a public relations disaster. But they did do so actually legally confiscating costumes, props, models, artworks and even stripping off shirts of fans at conventions.

The studios learned from this and did not come down so heavy handed, but they still legally enforce such as now there is good money to be made from licensing.

Lucas allowed fans to create costumes and basically promote his franchise. He still enforces issues when he sees someone making a profit, but otherwise wants fans to enjoy and expand on his works for the enjoyment of the Star Wars universe. But that is a fine line and again I refer to the article above on those issues.

Bottom line, yes it is infringment even when making or copying a unique aspect of someone's work. Whether or not it is worth enforcing becomes the next legal issue.
 
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red4

Sr Member
Hasn't Lucasfilm broken a bunch of copyrights by using real firearms and just adding metal junk on top of them to make the barrels look slightly different? Aren't the copyrights broken even further when those designs are licensed to Hasbro to make toy replicas? And it's not just firearms, there's also that Gillette ladies' razor they turned into a comlink, and the Covertec belt clip that has been made in 1/6 scale and 1/18 scale for Jedi characters.
 

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JD Douglas

Active Member
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But they license those designs for merchandise. So they do sell them.

Excellent Red4! That's exactly what I'd like to know.

My guess is that the Mauser's (and others') design copyright has expired or that it has to do with foreign copyright or...I'm going to stop because I don't know much about this and I'm about to really start sounding stoopid...

- JD
 

Michael Bergeron

Legendary Member
RPF PREMIUM MEMBER
To the best of my knowledge the copyright on firearms doesn't pertain to the look but rather the engineering. When the Mauser C96 was patented it was the semi automatic action that was patented.

There is no way that Mauser can claim that Lucasfilm selling plastic blasters infringes on their business. Same reason that airsoft guns copy real life looks, their internals are completely different and they aren't real firearms so no copyright infringement.

Again, that's just to the best of my knowledge. I'm not a lawyer and if anyone was going to look into this more seriously than a conversation with some guys on the net I would suggest you find one. :)
 

red4

Sr Member
To my knowledge, Smith and Wesson has licensed the outer design of their firearms for airsoft replicas. But I could be mistaken.
But it's easy to assume, considering so many guns have iconic outer designs. There's no mistaking a Beretta, Glock, P99, or Desert Eagle.
 

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fiberglassmasks

New Member
Hasn't Lucasfilm broken a bunch of copyrights by using real firearms and just adding metal junk on top of them to make the barrels look slightly different? Aren't the copyrights broken even further when those designs are licensed to Hasbro to make toy replicas? And it's not just firearms, there's also that Gillette ladies' razor they turned into a comlink, and the Covertec belt clip that has been made in 1/6 scale and 1/18 scale for Jedi characters.

The Jason hockey mask is another good example. They used a Fibrosport goalie mask which they vac'ed several layers of plastic over to enlarge the final mask. The red markings on the mask are also not exactly original as similar marks can be seen on hockey masks from years earlier. Its hard to see how some companys can claim copyright on items like these :wacko
 

red4

Sr Member
The Jason hockey mask is another good example. They used a Fibrosport goalie mask which they vac'ed several layers of plastic over to enlarge the final mask. The red markings on the mask are also not exactly original as similar marks can be seen on hockey masks from years earlier. Its hard to see how some companys can claim copyright on items like these :wacko

True enough, but I singled out Lucasfilm in my example because of how tightwound they are about their copyrights. They'll give you a CnD if you just look at them the wrong way.
 

Uratz

Sr Member

Michael Bergeron

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RPF PREMIUM MEMBER
True enough, but I singled out Lucasfilm in my example because of how tightwound they are about their copyrights. They'll give you a CnD if you just look at them the wrong way.

I would argue the opposite. There is a HUGE cottage industry making blasters, Trooper armour, costumes, lightsabers, models, etc...

Same with Indy stuff, loads of reproductions out there sold on ebay every day.

All relatively untouched provided they don't get too big.
 

red4

Sr Member
I would argue the opposite. There is a HUGE cottage industry making blasters, Trooper armour, costumes, lightsabers, models, etc...

Same with Indy stuff, loads of reproductions out there sold on ebay every day.

All relatively untouched provided they don't get too big.

Do you remember a few years back when Lucasfilm issued a CnD to some laser company just because their portable laser product visually resembled a lightsaber? I don't know the finer details, nor what happened afterward, but that was pretty fat-headed of Lucasfilm. Where do they get the gall?
 

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