Copyright Law

Simple question with undoubtedly complicated answer:

Is it a copyright infringement to use a screen-grab of a movie as a privately maintained wiki index? I read through a copy of circular 92 and about 15 minutes in realized I’m just reading the words and not really comprehending any of it.

Any help would be appreciated, but if sources could be provided, I’d be eternally thankful and share your story of heroism with my grandchildren.

What do you mean “use”?

It sounds as if you mean read it later for personal comprehension. That’s certainly OK.

Reposting material is normally not OK, but Wikipedia and most wikis I’m familiar wih use a Creative Commons license, which allows people to repost all material fully and freely. There are actually 7 different types of CC licenses, but Wikipedia specifically allows you to:

If you’re not referring to Wikipedia proper, then check out what version of the CC license they use.

So if I were to post a screen-grab of say Darth Vader to a non-wikipedia based wiki, and say ‘hey this is what I look like’, it is considered A) infringement, B) okay, or C) subject to the licensing agreement the website has?

You’ll have to forgive me if I’m re-treading here, but copy right law is about as incomprehensible to me as quantum theory is to my cat.

Which jurisdiction(s) are you and your wiki’s web server in? It’s not possible to say whether what you’re doing is copyright infringement unless we can determine which copyright laws apply to you.

Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike
Is that what we’re talking about here?

Posting to is the copyright opposite of posting from. The source is all-important.

What is the source of the image of Darth Vader? If it’s from anybody else in the world other than something you drew personally, then you have to find out whether the source allows it to be re-posted. Even if you drew it yourself, you may be violating the trademark - not the copyright - that Lucas has over all its images.

Since you said in the OP you’re talking about a screen-grab from a movie, then Luscasfilms has it doubly protected, both copyright and trademark.

However. It is normally considered fair use to add covers of books or DVDs or CDs or other commercial works to reviews, criticism, and other legitimate commentary. Does a screen-grab of a character qualify?

I doubt there is applicable case law on this. Copyright cases almost never goes to court. I can refer you to the Wikipedia page for the image of Darth Vader.

And therefore go see Wikipedia:Non-free use rationale guideline.

If you wanted somethng easy and cut-and-dried, see this thread. Copyright has no answers, only… suggestions.

There is also an exception for parody. I suppose if your post includes “I am Darth Vader, and I will use Jedi Mind Control to choke the life out of anyone who dares criticize my posts…” - that and the image may qualify as parody. Depends if the judge has a sense of humor.

The copyright holder (Lucasfilms, I presume) is torn in two directions. If they allow use of their copyright and trademarked image, they may cheapen it to the point where they cannot enforce their ownership. OTOH, it doesn’t pay to go after minor infractions that will probably get tossed out of court under some fair use clause, or win them an award of $1.

However, remember in the great USofA, anyone can file a lawsuit, even if they probably won’t win. So unless you know how to act as your own lawyer or have the funds to fight, be careful who you offend. Generally, though, in such cases the copyright owner will start with a 'sharply worded letter" asking you to stop. Then you decide if you want to fight Lucasfilms until one of you goes broke.

Really seems that the joke isn’t worth the trouble. I’d hate to have some Orwellian doom squad snatch me off the street for the re-education center because Lucasfilms didn’t like my sense of humor.

PS The world sucks.

If you are in the United States, then using anyone else’s work, including a screen grab from a movie, without permission is infringement.

There are some exceptions that have been alluded to, mainly having to do with the fair use doctrine.

This is the provision that allows critics and commentators, for example, to use quotations and clips of works in their reviews, commentary, criticism, etc. So ask yourself questions like these:

  • Are you profiting in any way from using the work? Are you selling ads on your site or receiving subscription fees from customers?
  • What is your purpose? Is it educational? Is it political speech? Is it artistic commentary or criticism?
  • Are you using a huge proportion of your work? Is what you’re doing the equivalent of publishing an entire work? (This is partly what got the Harry Potter website guy in trouble – Rowling said that he used too many direct quotations.)
  • Is your use a substitute for a kind of use that the copyright owner gets money for, like for selling copies of the movie, or selling posters or other licensed products?

Someone also mentioned trademark infringement. Under trademark law, you are an infringer if you make a use in commerce of someone else’s mark that is likely to cause confusion as to the origin of goods or services.

Regarding these issues, ask yourself questions like this:

  • Are you selling some kind of goods or services to the public?
  • Are you using the image as the identifier of the origin of goods or services (brand name) on your goods or services?

If your use amounts to criticism or parody of the work, it generally puts you in a better position on both the copyright and trademark sides of the question.

Just from what I’ve read and some of you have shared, it really seems to me that the minutiae of copyright/trademark law are so specific they overlap and become vague enough to be interpreted however the holder desires. Seems rather asinine. Good thing to know though, I’ll be sure to chastise my daughter for her blatant disregard for private property and shred all of her drawings of pixar characters to avoid litigation.

No, not really. While there is flexibility in the fair use doctrine, that flexibility is largely to the benefit of users. There are a wide variety of things that are pretty clearly infringing or non-infringing. If you feel like you are not getting a straight answer to your question, at least for my part, that is intentional. I’m not your lawyer, so I’m not going to give you legal advice. You might have noticed the series of questions I posed to you. I should think, however, that it should be fairly clear to you at this point whether the use you envisioned is infringing. Look past your petulance and apply the knowledge that’s been offered to you.

I know you’re joking, but the attitude reflected by this joke is, in my view, the opposite of “fighting ignorance.” It’s pretty clear to me that a kid’s personal drawings are not infringing. But to pretend that the law is a great burden on you and your daughter in cases like this is unproductive.

Your question isn’t that clear. Are you saying you want to use Darth Vader as your avatar on some website? That’s fine. Fair use. No question. It’s an infinitessimal proportion of the entire work, it’s being used without any profit motive, nobody is going to decide not to watch or buy Star Wars films or other merchandise because their Vader jones is satisfied by seeing a little picture of him on a web page, and you’re making no suggestion that Vader is a character owned by you. Of course you can use it.

If you’re actually asking about some more substantial use of protected material, then you just have to do the analysis set out by ascenray.

As for your frustration that there are rules to protect people who create characters and movies that people like so that others don’t just steal all their stuff and so they can get paid enough to make it worthwhile to keep creating more stuff people like – don’t be a goob.


Yeah, what he said:

Don’t be a goob.

A phrase that I am going to use ten times in the next week…