Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Car Used in Graphic Novel

Dear Rich: I'm working on a graphic novel/comic book. One of the characters will be driving a vehicle of a highly recognizable make and model. Are there legal issues in doing this? If needed, I could alter the car to the point that it's more generic. The short answer is that you're okay using a popular make of automobile in your graphic novel or comic (that's why they call them car-toons) or in most any type of fictional or "editorial" work (remember Stephen King's use of a red Plymouth Fury as the villain in his novel, Christine?). A car manufacturer may battle other manufacturers over the appearance, but those design patent or trade dress rights -- for example, the C-scoop on a Ford Mustang -- are rarely asserted against editorial uses. You may run into a problem if you use the image of the car on the cover of your work, or in the advertising and it creates the impression that the manufacturer is associated with or endorses your work. And you probably shouldn't offer merchandise -- for example, a miniature replica of the car. Of course, the use can also be lucrative if you partner with a car company or get involved in movie and TV product placements. The Dear Rich Staff recommends that if you want to avoid any potential C&D correspondence, use a car that's no longer in production and for which no manufacturer is claiming rights -- like our favorite anthropomorphic characters, Sam & Max (above), and their speedy customized DeSoto