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Law Educator, Esq.
Law Educator, Esq., Lawyer
Category: Intellectual Property Law
Satisfied Customers: 111480
Experience:  Attorney practicing all aspects of copyright/trademark law
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I have a handmade product that uses various superhero characters

Customer Question

I have a handmade product that uses various superhero characters that i illustrated in my style selling on etsy. I recently got a cease and desist email from warner bros and i would imagine Marvel will soon follow. These designs have now become the bulk of my sales for my small business.
I was wondering how do I go about getting a product license from these big companies and hopefully its not to late. Also about how much would it cost me since I am not that very big right now.
Submitted: 1 year ago.
Category: Intellectual Property Law
Expert:  Law Educator, Esq. replied 1 year ago.
Thank you for your question. I look forward to working with you to provide you the information you are seeking for educational purposes only.

Making hand drawn interpretations of superheros and selling them is not illegal. It is illegal if you are making reproductions of the characters or are using their names or trademark symbols (like the superman "S"), but not if you are drawing them in your own style. In fact, drawing in your own style grants you your own copyright to those new works.

Trying to get a license from these companies means you have to write to their Intellectual Property Licensing office and dealing with their attorneys and you need to have a local attorney to do that for you. The costs can reach into the thousands of dollars. However, if you are freehand drawing your interpretation of these designs it is not unlawful for you to do so and to even sell them.

Here is a good article about artists copying other works that explains that what you are doing is not infringement: http://muddycolors.blogspot.com/2014/07/some-basics-about-copyright.html
Customer: replied 1 year ago.

The illustrations are digitally drawn in adobe illustrator and only show the bust without the head. I then put them on a flask to sell and majority of the time they are personalized with a name.

For some characters I have to use a emblem logo like batman, superman etc. in this case the cease was from Warner Bros. and others like marvel characters are more interpretive but can be recognize as those characters.

Iron Man

I am a small business (2 people) just starting out and only sell on etsy. I want to know if even possible to get a small time product licencing from these companies or the right to use these characters since i am so small? There isn't any officially licence product like this on the market so it is pretty unique.

Expert:  Law Educator, Esq. replied 1 year ago.
Thank you for your reply.

The logos you are using are trademarked and that is your problem here. You need to remove the logos or you need permission from the owner of the trademark to use them. To get permission, their fees all vary, based on the cost of your product and the number of sales you show them you are making and you need to submit that to the owner's intellectual property department with samples of what you are using and they will determine a price on a case by case basis if they grant permission.

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