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I have an app idea which is based on the use of cartoon characters; I would like to include a single image of cartoon characters with their names, the app will be purely for reference and free.

However, I'm worried that as most cartoon characters are copyrighted I could be subject to legal action. Am I covered by fair use?

I know there are some cartoon characters which can be used as they are in the public domain however there are very few of them.

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I think you are more than likely to receive a cease and desist letter from the company's lawyers. I agree with Scott; if you don't have written permission you are asking for trouble.

This sort of thing is not unprecedented. Here is one example involving Blizzard:

Blizzard sends a C&D to Warcraft Characters, other iPhone apps

[Blizzard have] already sent out cease-and-desist orders to two Warcraft-related iPhone apps that were charging money (Armory Browser and the Warcraft Arena Calculator), and now we've heard from its creator that Warcraft Characters has gotten the C&D treatment as well

Mike Schramm, WoW Insider

This next example isn't specific to an iPhone application, but still relevant. The lawyers at Marvel weren't all too happy when an artist produced something not too dissimilar from what you're describing:

After a Cease-and-Desist from Marvel, Artist Re-Imagines Superhero Poster

Last February, Michael Mateyko of the design team KOMBOH created the awesome “The Avengers: 50 Years of Earth’s Mightiest Super-Heroes” poster, which features a graphic timeline of Marvel superheroes that spans from 1963 to 2013.

The folks over at Marvel Entertainment saw Mateyko’s poster. Great news, right? Not so much. KOMBOH announced on their website, “Marvel threw a cease-and-desist letter at us and we had to remove all the Avengers and other comic stuff.”

Lauren Kilberg, Paste Magazine

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As a piece of reference material, that would typically come under the umbrella of fair-use. Alas, that doesn't stop you from being sued, so to argue for fair use, you may very well have to spend money and time.

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I definitely would not use any cartoon characters which might be copyright protected, you could try to build similar characters like some sort of parody, this would probably get you around the copyright thing...

Hope it helps :-)


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