Copyrighting your Muck Characters?
Often I see on people's websites, and on popular art galleries pictures of their or others muck or role-play characters. And in most instances they are followed by descriptions similar to 'FluffyWuffieBunniekins Copyright Me, Art Copyright Some Guy I Met Online!!!'. Well, sometimes with real names. But do most people understand what copyright means? Lets answer a few common questions...
Can I copyright my character?
The short answer is - No.
The longer answer is - Well, partially, but it has never actually been fully and legally tested and is unlikely to stand up in court.
The root of this problem is that Copyright applies to the Ideas or Expression that have been fixed in a medium. A picture of a character can be copyrighted. A text description of that character can be copyrighted. The concept of that character? Debatable.
You could argue that use of a character in a different work is in effect a derivative use of the description or pictorial representation of the character. But derivation is always considered with weight given to the proportionality of use. Use of one character based on a short text description in, say, a comic book with multiple characters may not pass as a derived work.
Use of a large amount of characters from one work in another however, would be a derivation of the original. For example, you wouldn't be able to make your own comic book using the Belle's of St Trinians... But having one character from St Trinians show up in your work... Maybe.
In essence, there is no easy way to copyright a character... But, you can trademark a character's name and likeness. For instance, Terry Pratchett and Rhiana Pratchett hold trademarks on the name and likeness of 'The Luggage', which can be used to halt any use of the character for marketing or use in commercial ventures such as published books. However, this does not grant them right to control mention of 'The Luggage' in things such as this article for instance.
If I pay someone for a commission, I partially own the copyright as a Work For Hire right?
The short answer - No.
The longer answer - Hell No.
The longer longer answer - No, but maybe yes in some cases.
Lets make this specific, just paying someone to create an art work or text does not transfer ownership of the copyright. One of the following conditions must have been met before any transfer or partial ownership :-
1) Both the commissioner and creator have a signed agreement to transfer copyright ownership.
2) The commissioner has provided some of the work towards the creation of the art or text. For example, an exact specification of the drawing - 'The lion`s head tilts to the left slightly. The water in the glass is fizzing, and dripping over the sides...'
3) The artist has derived the work from another. Remember, only original creation acquires copyright. So, in this case neither of you owns the copyright. If you pay someone to write you Sonic fanfic, then you don't magically make it more copyrightable.
Hold on, I paid for the commission, but you say I cant use it in my publication and publish it on my website?
The short answer - Got it in one.
The longer answer - See above. Unless specifically attributed the rights are withheld.
Unless you have specifically been granted permission, or have already acquired copyright as above, you do not have the right to reproduce a work bought on commission. The artist reserves this right unless granted to you. In fact, you cant stop the artist then going and selling thousands of copies of your commission to other people if they want. Remember, in buying a commission you are purchasing the artists time to produce one single work. Anything else needs further agreement from the creator.
You can copyright a text description of your character, but you can not copyright the concept of your character. If you pay an artist to draw your character, you do not automatically gain the copyright to that drawing. The artist is within their rights to republish and sell prints of that drawing if they wish and have not made any other agreement with you.