Is it illegal to use copyrighted materials to decorate a themed restaurant or hotel?

UPDATED: Aug 4, 2015

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Is it illegal to use copyrighted materials to decorate a themed restaurant or hotel?

For example: using various artworks or merchandise of comic book characters as decoration or having an artist do a mural of a TV show character, provided that the restaurant or hotel does not use the name of the copyrighted characters in it’s name or advertising.

Asked on August 4, 2015 under Business Law, New York


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 7 years ago | Contributor

If the image is copyrighted, as it almost certainly is, then yes, it is illegal: to draw a mural or otherwise reproduce it copyright is protection for original graphic works (i.e. images) as well as for words; therefore, it would be a violation of copyright to use the image in any way (e.g. as decoration) even if the character is not named, IF you are having someone reproduce the image for you. If you buy a licenced image (e.g. a framed poster or comic-book cover; or even licensed sculptural images, like a statute of Batman or Captain America), you can use that licensed product as decoration, because the creater of the licensed product has obtained permission to adapt, reproduce, copy, etc. the image or character. So if you buy products from the comic book companies or from reputable vendors who would only be selling licensed products, you can use those products for decoration--just don't draw or create any new images yourself.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The Answer(s) provided above are for general information only. The attorney providing the answer was not serving as the attorney for the person submitting the question or in any attorney-client relationship with such person. Laws may vary from state to state, and sometimes change. Tiny variations in the facts, or a fact not set forth in a question, often can change a legal outcome or an attorney's conclusion. Although has verified the attorney was admitted to practice law in at least one jurisdiction, he or she may not be authorized to practice law in the jurisdiction referred to in the question, nor is he or she necessarily experienced in the area of the law involved. Unlike the information in the Answer(s) above, upon which you should NOT rely, for personal advice you can rely upon we suggest you retain an attorney to represent you.

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