Cosplay is phenomenally popular, and with the explosion of fan-based conventions and events, more IP and brand holders are seeing their work show up in elaborately made “homage” costumes. While many cosplayers limit their creations to single pieces made for personal use, a few bad actors play fast and loose with designs, and some brand holders are discovering their hard work commercialized by unauthorized copycats.
So, what’s copyright infringement and what’s allowable under the law?
True copyright infringement occurs when an individual or group uses your intellectual property for financial gain. Essentially, if someone is using your IP without a license and then commercializing that use, that’s illegal. But if the individual cosplayer is using your IP in a non-commercial way as a form of self-expression and devotion to the character, to educate others, or as a comment/criticism on the original IP, without receiving any financial remuneration, it’s not considered infringement and is therefore, allowable under the law.
The best way to ensure your IP is protected and allow your fans to explore their creativity is to set up licensing rights to your designs. That way you’re still in control of how your IP is used, your fans can continue to enjoy the characters they love, and everything is being done in accordance with trademark and copyright laws.
But what exactly is licensing?
A license is a written contract in which the owner of the trademarked IP permits authorized individuals or companies (licensees) to use, make or sell copies of the original IP under certain terms. These contracts often include specifics about exactly how the licensees are allowed to use the IP and also cover things like exclusivity rights, royalties, territories the license covers, and duration of licensing rights.
There are multiple types of licenses available to brand and IP holders including end-user licenses (often found with software installation), patent licensing for technology, trademark and brand licensing, and artwork and character licensing (common for movie, cartoon and comic book characters), just to name a few.
With any major business decision, licensing your brand or IP comes with both pros and cons.
For a company with little to no capital to invest, licensing to a third-party manufacturer means your products will get to market, but you may end up losing the right to make decisions concerning how and where it’s produced, how it’s packaged, priced, and marketed. The decision to license your IP should occur under the professional guidance and expertise of an IP attorney.
Regardless of what you decide, there is no greater rush than seeing your hard work honored by dedicated cosplayers, especially when you’ve also taken the necessary steps to ensure that your IP is properly protected and secure.
If you have concerns about how your IP is being used online, we’d be happy to prepare a digital risk assessment for you.
 This blog post provides generalized information and does not constitute legal advice or an attorney-client communication. Each situation is unique and requires consultation with suitable professionals.