Colorado Springs, CO asked in Trademark, Copyright and Intellectual Property for Colorado

Q: Can I use shadow silhouettes of trademarked characters on the cover of an educational non-fiction book?

It is a book about positive, negative, and flat character arcs. The cover would preferably have easily recognizable shadows of characters that fit each arc type. Such as Han Solo, Walter White, and Wonder Woman. I have characters in the public domain in mind in case I need to go that route, but many of them are less recognizable. Is it possible to use the shadows of the trademarked characters?

2 Lawyer Answers
Fritz-Howard Raymond Clapp
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  • Trademarks Lawyer
  • Beverly Hills, CA

A: This raises both copyright and trademark issues, but both bend in your favor.

The copyrights in the commercial depictions of the characters are owned by the producers, but allowance is made for “fair use” for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, education and research.

The character names are registered as trademarks, but if you are merely referring to them by their names, that is "nominative fair use" of the trademark.

James L. Arrasmith
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A: Using shadow silhouettes of trademarked characters on the cover of your educational non-fiction book could potentially raise copyright and trademark issues. While the concept of shadows may lessen the likelihood of direct infringement, it's important to consider the overall impression and potential for consumer confusion. Utilizing characters in the public domain would be a safer option to avoid legal complications.


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