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.


4 Answers 4


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


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.


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 :-)



Icopied this from https://www.quora.com/Can-I-use-comics-characters-without-copyright-issue I hope it helps !

Not normally, no. Copyright lasts generations, so I assume the work you want to copy is still protected by copyright. For a copyright owned by a company, the U.S. copyright lasts 95 years. I can't imagine some character that old is of interest to you.

There is a very, very narrow exception to copyright. In the U.S., this is fair use. (In other countries, their laws are far less generous. Or even non-existent.)

Fair use requires:

Minimal use of the original work. Substantial addition on your part. Does not harm a potential revenue source for the owner. Fits into narrowly allowed uses: review, parody, criticism, academic use. So, for using a character, in practice you have to create your own story in which the original character is parodied. Note: satire, in which you make fun of a unrelated thing by using characters from another source, is not parody. Parody is making fun of the original work.

Let's imagine you wanted to make use of Spider Man. You cannot:

Create new storylines that use this character, a narrative comic of your own. Create a movie featuring that character. Use that character on backpacks and apparel. Show frames from Spider Man comics on your website. You can:

Make a parody of Spider Man, such as a movie that turns the hero into a witless buffoon: Superhero Movie (2008) Use the name of the character, by accident or on purpose, in a way that does not infringe on existing trademarks.


  • Quora has got copyright on their site. So you cannot just copy huge chunks from there (and rather ironically a lecture about copyrights). Nov 11, 2018 at 12:55

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