Question About Fictional Characters and Copyrights

A coworker was telling me about a commercial idea for one of those “make a commercial for our company and win a million dollars” contests. The idea included some characters from recent horror movies.

Anyway, my common sense told me that these characters are copyrighted and probably can’t be used.

So how exactly does fanfic authors get away with that kind of stuff?

They’d be trademarked, not copyrighted. Copyright would come in if you wanted to use the actual footage from the movies.

As for the characters, maybe you could make a claim for parody, but you’d probably be better off changing them so they look similar to the characters you want to evoke, yet are clearly different. Like give “Freddy” a blue and yellow sweater and a top hat. And don’t call him by name.

Fanfic authors get away with it because, really, how do you sue a fanfic author and not have it be a colossal waste of your own time and money? Not to say they don’t get the occasional cease and desist form letters.