Can I use video game/comic book characters for my products to sell?

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Can I use video game/comic book characters for my products to sell?

I want to start a business that has to do with a certain type of clothing that represents video game characters (not costumes). If I make a Mario shirt, it won’t be Mario, but it will look like the top part of him, like the blue top part of his overalls, and his red shirt. Is this illegal to do since it’s Nintendo’s property? Is there any way around it to make it ok if it’s not? Would logos be out of the question, like a Batman logo? I see a lot of start up t-shirt companies use video game characters, and I don’t think they’re original licensed products, so I was wondering if it’s ok.

Asked on August 16, 2012 under Business Law, California

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 8 years ago | Contributor

No, it's not ok. Using even part of a copyrighted or trademarked character (or their logo) is copyright or trademark infringement; it is illegal, and could potentially result in having to pay monetary compensation and/or being injoined (ordered) to stop making, selling, etc. the product. That's not to say that many people don't do it anyway, hoping they will not be noticed, caught, or prosecuted--but it's still against the law. It's like the speed limit--many people violate it, but they're justing hoping to not be pulled over; the fact that others speed doesn't let you speed.


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