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Unless a literary character is central to the story being told and well developed, it is not subject to protection under copyright law. However, cartoon or comic-book characters representing physical and conceptual characteristics are entitled to copyright protection.  Comic book characters are more likely to contain some unique elements of expression that can be copyrighted.

For example, courts have found that “Superman” is copyrightable.  However, the owners of the copyright cannot claim authorship on all superhuman characters.  Similarly, a “magician” character depicted in a home video is not subject to copyright protection when the magician is not distinct from any ordinary magician, is dressed in standard magician garb, and his role was limited to performing and revealing magic tricks.

Generally, the usage of a peculiar mannerism, voice or dress is not copyrightable.  However, if the mannerism, voice or dress is associated with a specific character, it can be subject to protection under copyright law.  If the name of a character or the title of a work has obtained a secondary meaning, protection is granted to the owner against its use or imitation.  A character infringement claim can succeed only if the plaintiff’s original conception developed the character sufficiently, and the defendants copied this development.

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