By Kumar Shashwat

June 22, 2022

Character merchandising can be defined as the revision or secondary utilization, by the creator of an imaginary character or by a real human being or by one or several sanctioned third parties, of the indispensable personality characteristics (such as the name, image or appearance) of a  character in relation to a range of goods and/or services with an outlook to creating in potential consumers a yearning to get hold of those goods and to use those services because of the customers’ attraction with that character. It should already be highlighted that the person or legal entity which will systematize the merchandising activity (the merchandiser) will infrequently be the creator of the fictional character or the real person concerned. The various property or personality rights vesting in the character will be the subject matter of contracts (such as transfer or license agreements or product or service endorsement agreements), enabling one or more than a few involved third parties to be regarded as authorized users of the character. 

Registration of Character Trade Marks

The primary function of marks that are symbols in its real sense is to indicate the origin of the goods so that the consumers can distinguish who is responsible for the goods that are placed in public. On the one hand, the creator of the fictional characters is not themselves engaged in such merchandising activities. Still, they may want to procure the trademark rights for their characters in order to regulate and license their use for commercial or merchandising purposes. On the other hand, sportspersons, actors, and pop stars use their characters most rewardingly.

However, in English Law, the Trade Marks Act 1938 prohibits the use of the trademark for trafficking, dealing mainly in a commodity in the right and not primarily to indicate or identify merchandise in which the owner of the trademark is interested; do not contain such restrictions with respect to the registration of trademarks.

In Tarzan,[1] the candidates who were solely qualified to produce movies, records, and commercialization concerning the renowned anecdotal character Tarzan were denied enlisting the word Tarzan in relation to movies, attractive tape recordings, amusement toys and merchandise. The Court of Appeal held that since the word Tarzan was outstanding and was a piece of the dialect, it neglected to meet all requirements for enrolment as a developed or invented word. It was additionally held that the word had an immediate reference to the character and nature of the items since a film managing the endeavours of Tarzan would be portrayed as a “Tarzan” film, and the candidates’ different items were merchandise connected with Tarzan. Hence, the trademark was not considered to be fit for recognizing the candidates’ merchandise. Tarzan couldn’t be enlisted as a trademark because of the way that it spoke of the character and subsequently did not appear to show the origin of the items.

The idea that fame acts as the central impediment to getting the registration of a trademark was further explained in the Elvis Presley case[2]. The candidates, who were the legitimately perceived successors of any promoting exercises carried for the famous personality Elvis Presley, were denied enlisting of the words ” Elvis” and “Elvis Presley”, and the mark “Elvis A. Presley” regarding toiletries. The Court said that every one of the products for which enrollment was looked for was legitimately viewed as memorabilia since they were promoted principally because of their connection with the name and picture of Elvis Presley. It was in this manner held that the imprints were not unmistakable; buyers obtained stock identifying with Elvis Presley, not because they considered that Elvis Presley Enterprises showcased it, but since it conveyed the name or picture of Elvis Presley. The Court’s view was that the general population is occupied with acquiring the merchandise identified with a most loved name as a famous person and is not concerned whether licensees of such a big name create such items. Finally, the Court held that when a character is well known, it is exceptionally far-fetched that the check will mean the inception of the item.

Also, in the Diana case,[3] the executrices of the Estate of Diana, Princess of Wales connected to enlist as a trademark the words “Diana, Princess of Wales” for a wide variety of products and ventures. However, the application was rejected since it was held that the words Diana, Princess of Wales needed peculiarity. It was held that while most individual names might be considered to symbolize the inception of the merchandise, this is not the situation where an acclaimed name is worried; in such cases, it is conceivable that the name will serve to mean the topic of the items, rather than its beginning. It was further held that a normal customer would not expect that all memorabilia bearing the Princess’ name were marketed under the control of one undertaking in charge of their quality.

 

Legal Perspective

Copyrights

Exactly when an anecdotal character is introduced in academic work, as a creative work, or an abstract work, it is spoken to by the gauges of copyright law. Usually, the makers of the works hold copyright over these characters. When these characters are a part of a film or the producer has copyrights over the character. Note that the copyright may not come to exist in any fictional character appearing in a copyrighted work without any other person’s information. For such a character to be freely secured under the degree of copyright certification, the character must be managed independently of the story, cartoon or movie that it belongs to. In this instance, Star India v. Leo Burnett, the above was noted:

“The fictional characters are generally drawings in which copyright subsists, e.g., cartoon, and celebrities are living beings who are otherwise very famous in any particular field, e.g., film stars, sportsmen. It is necessary for character merchandising that the characters to be merchandised must have gained some public recognition, that is, achieved a form of independent life and public recognition for itself independently of the original product or independently of the milieu/area in which it appears. Only then can such character be moved into the area of character merchandising. This presumes that the character has independently acquired such reputation as to be a commodity in its own right independently of the goods or services to which it is attached or the field/area in which it originally appears. It is only when this is established on evidence as a fact, that the claimant may be able to claim a right to prevent anyone else from using such a character for other purposes.”

Identity rights

The producer of a film won’t have full rights to exploit the characters that can’t be disengaged from the performer portraying the same. In such a case, the character benefits of the performing craftsman apply despite the producer’s copyrights. This, from time to time, offers a climb to a battle between the two sorts of rights. For example, there has been a conflict between a performing artist assuming the part of a well-known character Gutthi in an Indian TV show and a TV station, which is additionally the maker of the arrangement. Because of this conflict, the performing artist moved out of the show and went ahead to begin his new show on an alternate TV slot. The principal TV slot issued an open proclamation that the character Gutthi had been made for the first show. Thus, it has copyright over the same. The on-screen character issued another announcement declaring his identity rights and saying that it is he who has accomplished acknowledgement as and is constantly related to Gutthi. Inferable from this conflict of rights, none of the parties could utilize the character Gutthi in their separate shows amid the season of the conflict. Identity rights unmistakably apply in instances of superstar marketing. Copyright is relevant just to the degree there are photos of superstars, and they are to be popularized; the picture takers have rights over the photographic works.

Trademarks

Since the vital character components of fanciful and authentic people are utilized as a part of the connection to business articles, trademark law standards likewise come into light in instances of character promotion. For example, in India, a trademark is known as any gadget, heading, plan, mark, word, name, signature, and so on which is fit for a graphical representation and which ought to be equipped for recognizing merchandise and/or administrations of one gathering from those of the other. This broad clarification makes it conceivable to have any anecdotal or real individual’s crucial identity elements as trademarks. For example, the name of a character and his picture, signature, character outlines, voice, catchphrases he utilized, and so forth could be ensured under trademark law.

When it comes to craftsmanship, one needs to consider the most unmistakable identity properties that are celebrated and deserving of trademark security. Character promoting is the initial step for treating acclaimed anecdotal characters or genuine identities as exchange signs. Famous people additionally authorize their identity and name rights under the laws of passing off. For example, in a noteworthy case concerning the identity and trademark privileges of the well-known pop singer “Daler Mehndi”, the pop star and his partner, the offended party, could effectively uphold trademark rights over the name “Daler Mehndi” against the respondents who earned tremendous financial gains by the offering of toys in light of his identity. Even though the name of Daler Mehndi or his fundamental identity components were not enrolled as trademarks, custom-based law gives exclusive privileges to the pop star in his name and identity. The productive instance of passing off could be brought for the execution of customary law marketing rights by the proprietors of such characters in case crucial parts of their characters’ personalities are used without their endorsement. Getting statutory trademark security is also profitable in bringing actual blue instances of trademark infringement against manhandling. The proprietors of universally acclaimed characters like Batman, Harry Potter and so forth have likewise procured statutory rights by enlisting the characters’ names as trademarks in India. On the Indian side, the proprietors of the fictional character Munnabhai (that showed up in the motion picture titled “Munnabhai MBBS” and its continuation “Lage Raho Munnabhai”) have additionally enlisted such character name as a trademark.


[1] Tarzan Trade Mark  [1970] FSR 245, CA.

[2] Elvis Presley Trade Mark  [1997] RPC 543.

[3] Diana Princess of Wales Trade Mark  [2001] ETMR 25. See also the similar view of Isaac,B., ‘Merchandising or Fundraising? Trade Marks and the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund’ (1998) 20 European Intellectual Property Review 441.

Books:

1. Ahuja V K, Law Relating to Intellectual Property Rights (English), Lexis Nexis, 2nd Edition, 2013.

2. Wadehra B L, Law Relating to Intellectual Property (English), Universal Law Publication, 5th Edition, 2012.

3. Ananth Padmanabhan, Intellectual Property Rights HB (English), Lexis Nexis- New Delhi, 1st Edition (Hardcover), 2012.

Articles:

1. John Perry Barlow, The Economy of Ideas, Wired, Mar. 1994

2. Emem Uduak Udobong, Copyright infringement in the search engine, December 2005.

Kumar Shashwat is Founding Partner at Kumar & Singh Associates.

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