Can I use Public Domain cartoons without infringing on trademarked characters?

UPDATED: Jul 25, 2010

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Can I use Public Domain cartoons without infringing on trademarked characters?

For a commercial website, I hoped to use 30-60 second clips from known Public Domain cartoons, (i.e., Bugs Bunny, Popeye, etc.) I will change the audio and I will not use any intro company material. Will I run into copyright and/or trademark issues?

Asked on July 25, 2010 under Business Law, Texas


M.T.G., Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 12 years ago | Contributor

The very term "public domain" means that the work is not protected by copyright and may be freely used by anyone. But you need to distinguish between trademarked works and trademarked characters. Trademarked characters is something different. There are some characters that are in the public domain but generally, trademarks are forever.  So how doss the distinction work here with your question?  Bugs Bunny is a trademarked character not in the public domain but his earliest cartoons are in the public domain.  This is not an area to get caught up in and you need to show how you are using the cartoons to a trademark attorney in your area.  You may have to pay to use Bugs no matter what. Seek help.   

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