Dear Rich: I wanted to get your advice on Star Trek costumes and Star Trek character makeup designs: Klingons, Vulcan's etc... I understand movie and television costumes are not protected under copyright law, but are the chevrons or emblems on the costumes protected under copyright or trademark laws? I have just completed an abstract comedy that involves actors from those Star Trek series. The actors play themselves not the characters they played in the series, but some extras or other actors who were not in the series will be wearing Star Trek uniforms in the movie at Sci-Fi conventions for example. Also, some actors and extras in the screenplay are wearing Klingon, Vulcan and other Star Trek species makeup from the Star Trek universe. Are the makeup design for those alien characters protected by copyright? Can CBS, Paramount or makeup artist sue because of such close resemblance? Or is makeup design similar to costume design?
If they could sue me, would slightly altering these creature makeup designs negate copyright infringement? We've addressed the issues of copyright and theatrical costumes in a previous entry. As we noted there, the concern may be more about trademark infringement -- that the owners of Star Trek somehow endorse or are associated with your screenplay. This would also be the case for makeup and Star Trek emblems (although an argument might be made that creative makeup designs, like creative tattoos, deserve copyright protection). We can't predict whether CBS/Paramount Network television will see or care about your use, or whether they want to risk the wrath of fans by going after you. In any case, it appears as if your screenplay is within the parody/commentary universe which -- along with a prominent disclaimer -- may provide a strong defense for you on trademark and copyright claims (as it does for this film). In fact, you may wish to check out the DVD extras for Escape from Tomorrow for an interview on the subject with one of our favorite permissions authors.