Lego Animation... legality

After watching several very funny animated films made with Legos (not going to post a URL considering this is a question about legality), I was wondering about whether or not this is a legal thing to do… to use lego as your medium, I mean.

When does it become illegal? I assume you couldn’t legally make an animated film with, for example Star Wars figures… at what point does it become copyright infringement?

Well, if you do claymation, are you infringing on the copyright of the clay company?

There are “construction blocks” that are exactly like Legos. I think as long as you don’t call the work “Lego” or show their logo, it should be okay. Ooh, but does Lego still have rights to the little Lego people, and were they used in the work you’re considering?

IANAL. Meaning I am neither a lawyer nor a Lego-person.

Here’s some Lego art that’s probably fully illegal.

Tricky area. IAAL, but don’t specialize in copyright law.

Here’s a current link to a court decision addressing this issue. Very similar facts, except it concerns Barbie dolls, rather than Lego people.

That’s a very interesting case… I can see how tricky this is. The big problem with lego is, as Podkayne suggested, that the brick itself is not copyrighted or trademarked which is why there are lots of lego knock-offs.

I can understand how clay would be impossible to sue over as how can you prove it was your company’s clay they were using… but lego is tougher as its little men are instantly recognizable and I don’t know if other companies use the little yellow smiley headed guys.

Going back to the Star Wars point I brought up, I doubt you could use the Lego Star Wars little men… but what about the Star Wars set blocks in a non-Star Warslike configuration? What if you took a very obvious Disney toy but switched its head with that of another toy and painted the body?

I understand that this is all legally very tricky… but there must be some sort of precedent for cases such as this.

probably…so long as there weren’t obviously Star-Warsy parts (i.e., you use a block that bears the Rebel Alliance/Empire’s logo, you use the piece for R2D2’s head, with recognizable central eye, etc.)

As long as the body was still recognizably a Disney toy…probably not. Taking Buzz Lightyear, painting him completely black, and putting a head you molded yourself from clay will probably still leave you liable.

The site of the LEGO Group has set up a few “Fair Play” rules on their website:

The relevant parts would probably be those:

I guess “non-commercial” is the most important word here.

If it’s any indicator, Lego decided not to sue after an artist made “concentration camp kits” of Lego bricks. Apparently, it was considered better to not draw attention to the case and betting that the public would be able to tell what was real and what wasn’t. Of course, if someone else without the excuse of it being artistic were to infringe on Lego’s copyright, he or she probably wouldn’t fare so well.

S. Norman

Hmm… everything in that disclaimer has to do with their trademark and logo, not the bricks themselves. I’ve sent an e-mail to Lego asking them. I will let everyone know if I get a response.