Sunday, February 22, 2009

D'oh! Using Homer Simpson's Image on a Website

Dear Rich: I have a question. Would I be allowed to have an image of a licenced character -- let's say Homer Simpson -- as an example on my website? The site will have Google's Adsense on it, so technically I will be commercially exploiting a licensed character even if the revenue will be quite small. What sort of copyright info would I need to display on my website as not to be in breach of any copyright rules and regs? I'm so glad you asked. Regardless of how little money you make at your site, using a character like Homer Simpson without permission will violate copyright laws and most likely violate trademark laws. That said, 20th Century Fox (Homer's "owner") appears to be somewhat tolerant of website reproductions of "stationary-frame" images -- at least they were ten years ago, based on this letter from Fox's lawyers). That letter also provides proprietary and disclaimer language that you can add at your site. Fox obviously polices unauthorized Simpsons uses (including infringements by the U.S.  government). But Fox's hesitancy to go after single-image reproductions of Simpsons characters may have something to do with angering fans, as well as the huge task of going after the large volume of unauthorized images of Homer on the web. (Our last Google image search showed 586,000 results. D'oh!). Nevertheless, the Dear Rich staff believes that if you wish to stay below Fox's radar, one way would be to avoid providing audio or video clips, or any other downloadable Simpsons materials.