Monday, July 26, 2010

Will copyright protect my imaginary friend?


Dear Rich: I am writing a children's book based on the imaginary and not so imaginary friends my children had growing up...my daughter's imaginary friend and my son's stuffed dog. The stuffed dog had a name embroidered on it but my son never referred to the dog by that name. He gave it a different name. So in my book I refer to the dog using the name my son used. I had drawn a picture of the dog years ago and had it framed in my son's room when he was young (he's 38 now). I want to give the illustrator that picture so he can use it as a guide for drawing this dog in the book. Would that be any kind of copyright infringement? I wondered if I could have the name tag show the name my son used for his dog rather than the real one. Actually this stuffed dog looked pretty much like Snoopy but in different colors. I assume there was no copyright or patent problem since both of these stuffed animals are sold in stores. The one I'm using was not sold for many years but has recently been re-introduced online. I would not be using a photo of this stuffed dog. The illustration in the book will be modeled after my drawing of this dog.
 You can probably go ahead with your plans. You might run into a problem if you copied Snoopy and Snoopy's owner saw your book and thought your dog drawings were rip-offs. But that presumes a lot of things, including the fact that the stuffed dog is Snoopy or whether it is instead one of hundreds of other stuffed dogs that may or may not be copyrightable. In any case, whatever you can do to distinguish your drawings from the stuffed dog will help -- remember not every cartoon beagle is Snoopy and not every cartoon mouse is Mickey. As for swapping the names, that's more of a trademark than a copyright issue, but it depends on a similar question -- are consumers likely to be confused between the two dogs?
In conclusion. All in all, the meter is leaning in your favor on all of the above. Re: your statement, "I assume there was no copyright or patent problem since both of these stuffed animals sold in stores." We're not sure what you meant exactly, but buying something doesn't give you a right to copy it. You probably knew that but just sayin'.