Impersonating characters - is it legal?


#1

Question about legality. I can do a pretty decent Kate Monster impression, and I was toying with the idea of making a look-a-like puppet and creating a video gig offering Kate Monster impressions. However, I have a feeling there are a whole ton of legal reasons why this would be a big no-no. Just curious if anyone knows more about this, and if there’s a legal way to do it. Thanks!


#2

Well, if you look around, copyright infringement happens all the time on Fiverr. You see gigs offering to turn you into a Simpsons character, video clips of the Minions and just about any Disney character. According to the Fiverr ToS, sellers are responsible for being legally able to sell whatever it is they sell, in other words, we’ve all obtained legal rights to use any images in our gigs. Since licensure of well-known characters is very expensive, I doubt that anyone really does have the legal right. If the corporate owners of these intellectual properties decide they don’t like it, it could quickly turn into a legal & financial nightmare for those people. Same with using celebrity images. So I guess your decision could be based on whether or not you’d like to risk getting caught. I imagine the chances are extremely slim…but not zero.


#3

Firstly there is no copyright in an impression. Copyright and intellectual rights usually exist around the image, and you get around that with a caricature, which I suspect your gig will be.



Celticmoon is correct regarding licensing and many cartoon characters are covered under this, so the key thing to remember is to let the audience know that it is not the real thing, simply by adding, this is an impression, or not authorised by. Whatever you do don’t use a celebrity image.



To give you an example, one of my gigs is for a Morgan Freeman impression, if I said I am Morgan Freeman and authorise XYZ product, then the firm using it risks prosecution, so I simply state I will not say it, as this would be trying to fool the public. If I say I am a penguin (as Morgan Freeman) and authorise XYZ product, that’s fine or any script that does not mention his name or authorisation.



Michael Buffer the famous boxing announcer tried to sue me years ago, with what he thought was his voice, but it was my impression and therefore had no grounds to sue.



Hope this helps.



#4

If you live in the US, it’s illegal. If you live outside the US, it’s safer to copy anything. Just like in China, the Iphone 6 copy was already available more than a month ago! Be careful what you copy in the US as you may end up in hot water. There’s no such thing as freedom in any country.


#5

It’s not illegal in the US to do an impression or caricature, or you would have no tribute artists. What you are referring too is tangible goods and a brand, not the same thing as digital content.


#6

@stuartjsmith and @celticmoon are correct. The key will be making sure the puppet looks different enough from Kate Monster. I also would avoid referring to Avenue Q or any of the dialogue/music. If you just advertise it as a video of a puppet, you would be fine. I realize this isn’t what you were looking to do. See, an impression or caricature of Morgan Freeman or Robert De Niro is fine, because they are people, not a character. (Just not referring to yourself as them is almost always enough to save you.) If you do a straight up Kate Monster with a puppet, they can come after you since they didn’t approve it since it is a creation of someone else. (It will be hard to prove you weren’t copying her.) It will have to be derivative enough to be legal. Since Kate Monster is a bit of a caricature already, it makes it hard to do that even further. Then you would have to go with a parody. (You also have to take into consideration that Kate Monster is a parody herself of a Sesame Street character, which will make it even harder to be a parody of a parody.)



Great idea, but step lightly. (I see a lot of puppet gigs, when done well, get a lot of traffic on their own. I think if you just did a generic puppet gig with a voice similar to Kate Monster you should do fine. You don’t necessarily need the Avenue Q draw.)



I always wanted to play the part of Brian. (I’m not wearing underwear today!) My wife can do an awesome Kate Monster as well. She can do Christmas Eve too, but she’s not Japanese. But hey…everyone’s a little bit racist…

…see what I did there…


#7

Thanks for all your advice. I’m going to avoid any potential legal ramifications and just go with a puppet gig that doesn’t reference Avenue Q or Kate Monster at all. Even if I do happen to look and sound a little bit like her. Hopefully :slight_smile:

thanks again.