What is a literary character license?

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In a world where intellectual property repeats itself over and over again through reboots, sequels and prequels, the licensing of literary characters is an equally important matter. It’s easy to see why the license of a beloved literary character is lucrative: recognition is half the battle for launching a new product.

We live in a world with constant literary licenses. It is impossible to say if children’s books are still acquired with a license in mind, but it is clear that some of the most successful children’s book characters have been fired for plush toys, toothbrushes, card games and more will remain recognizable for children. Ubiquity is a major way to build endurance.

Before obtaining a license, a literary character needs a copyright. While not all literary figures can obtain copyright, there are many classics that have successfully established legal structures for licensing. Beloved characters take a long time to become dominant cultural forces, and licenses tend to add to this cultural force.

What is the license?

the basic meaning of the license is the legal permission to use copyrighted material for a certain period of time. In the case of literary characters, the license is granted by whoever owns or represents the intellectual property for a licensee (usually a business) to use the character. If the government has the license, it is still possible to become a licensee, but there is normally an application process.

Calvin & Hobbes Books, Tenth Anniversary Book

To use a license, the licensee must pay a license fee. Someone or a company that licenses a literary character can also think about what products they choose to put character images on. Although literary characters are an essential part of the children’s book game these days, Bill Watterson refused to allow his Calvin & Hobbes characters, as he explained in the Calvin & Hobbes Books, Tenth Anniversary Book.

The owner of the character license can be a writer, writer’s estate, publisher, or other entity. There are specific reasons why a literary character should be protected by copyright. While copyright owners don’t necessarily need to license their characters, this is standard practice for characters from beloved children’s books.

The classic tale of Peter Rabbit and other beloved Beatrix Potter stories
The classic tale of Peter Rabbit and other beloved stories by Beatrix Potter

Beatrix Potter pioneered the practice of literary personage Licence with his own creation Peter Rabbit. She originally self-published The tale of Peter Rabbit, which then became a sensation for children. Her belief in her characters also led her to cut and sew her own designs for a Peter Rabbit doll, before it became a mass-produced doll for children. She also carefully oversaw the licensing of other Peter Rabbit products, such as tea sets and board games. She has remained as involved as possible in all aspects of creating Peter Rabbit products.

Beatrix Potter oversaw this during her lifetime because she was so protective of her characters. She only chose products featuring Peter Rabbit that she said would appeal to children and properly portray her characters. It’s hard to say what she would have thought of the Peter Rabbit movies, but had they been shot somehow during her lifetime, she certainly would have been on set to give her opinion.

Winnie-the-Pooh and the Modern Licensing Formatting

Winnie the Pooh caused a sensation because of a female black bear housed at London Zoo in the 1920s. AA Milne and her son Christopher Robin Milne were big bear fans, and AA Milne has written two collections of success stories about Christopher Robin and his stuffed animals in the Hundred Acre Wood.

The original Winnie-the-Pooh by AA Milne, illustrated by EH Shepard
The original Winnie the Pooh by AA Milne, illustrated by EH Shepard

In 1930, literary agent Stephen Slesinger licensed Winnie-the-Pooh in a way that shaped the way contemporaries literary character license works. Instead of Beatrix Potter’s stand-alone operation, the case of Winnie-the-Pooh turned literary figures into major business ventures. Slesinger bought the merchandising, television, radio and other rights to the Winnie-the-Pooh stories from AA Milne for $ 1,000 and two-thirds of the royalties.

After a rebranding, Pooh became a more cuddly bear that would be welcoming and exciting for kids who saw him at the store with their parents. Winnie-the-Pooh began to appear as a doll and a stuffed toy, but it has also appeared in puzzles, games, and animated films.

Children’s characters started appearing everywhere, particularly in 1932 when Disney began shopping for their characters for licensing opportunities.

Further establishment of copyright for character licenses

The copyrighted characters became important in the 20e century with the rise of the written press and the need to protect their creators. The legal protection of a character protected by copyright has important clauses: “Copyright offers exclusive protection to original works of authorship fixed on a tangible medium … In order to obtain an exclusive copyright in a character, creators of characters must not only create original works, but must also flesh out their characters with enough original expression to make them distinctive. ”A person or company looking for a license will only be able to use the character image for a certain period of time, and companies have encountered problems to continue to market products after their license expires.

Winnie-the-Pooh and his fellow Hundred Acre Wood had enough specific visual and personality traits that they could be copyrighted. Children’s characters aren’t always designed with copyright and merchandising in mind, but a character with specific traits will stand out from the crowd.

The copyright for the characters has been the subject of a court ruling on several occasions. In the 1930s, in the case of Detective Comics v. Bruns Publications, Superman has defined some of the attributes necessary for a character to be licensed. The character of Bruns Publications Wonderman (not Simon Williams as Wonder Man) wore a tight red suit, saved citizens from crime, jumped from building to building, and exhibited incredible feats of strength. The court determined that while Superman embodied certain characteristics of a “type Hercules,” his actions and portrayal were sufficiently distinct to merit a copyright infringement by Bruns Publications over the original Detective Comics character.

Front Cover A Study in Sherlock
A study in Sherlock blanket

Another literary figure in the legal news is Sherlock Holmes. While many original Arthur Conan Doyle stories are in the public domain, the Conan Doyle Estate has pleaded which of their stories are available for public domain reinterpretation on a few occasions. In 2014, the Conan Doyle estate sued the publisher of the book A Study in Sherlock: Stories Inspired by the Canon Holmes, alleging that the works referenced in the book were still protected by copyright. The court ruled against Conan Doyle’s estate.

More recently, the Conan Doyle Estate filed a complaint against the netflix movie Enola Holmes, his books written by Nancy Springer and her publisher Penguin Random House for portraying an overly emotional Sherlock Holmes. Stories in the public domain feature a deliberately unemotional Holmes, while the emotional Holmes is only in stories still under copyright (or at least that’s what the Conan Doyle estate claims).

Again, Disney is involved

In 1961, Stephen Slesinger’s widow, Shirley Slesinger Lasswell (who took over Stephen Slesinger, Inc.) licensed parts of Winnie-the-Pooh to the Walt Disney Company. After this initial allocation of rights by Stephen Slesinger, Inc. to Disney, things start to get complicated. Copyright has continued to expand in the United States, with changes in 1976 and another in 1998 (pushed by the Disney company).

Stephen Slesinger, Inc. sued Disney for underpayment of royalties. In 2002, when Disney announced a plan to secure Pooh’s global rights, SSI sued Disney again. The granddaughters of AA Milne and EH Shepard (Pooh’s original artist) were also drawn into the financial brawl. During the trial it was admitted that Pooh had done at least a billion dollars in revenue per year (although SSI argued that this is a low estimate that Disney gave by hide income).

As Disney continues to acquire franchises and especially book series, character licensing issues are likely to crop up again and again. While there are laws to protect creators, copyright extension (as driven by Disney) and aggressive mega-corporations could undermine these important structures.

Licensing trade

Some of the more popular characters have a long history in the children’s book market, especially characters like Peter Rabbit, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, and Peppa Pig. These instantly recognizable characters persist in the public consciousness as their books are still widely distributed, probably driven by their ubiquity. However, licensees and domain managers try to be careful about what products they slap their characters on so as not to lose consumer confidence.

If you’re interested in the history of licensing, licensed comics have an interesting place in media history, and manga licensing issues continue to plague the genre.

For Winnie-the-Pooh fans, you can find everyday quotes, crafts to make a Winnie-the-Pooh baby shower, and great book articles to make a Winnie-themed nursery. -the-Pooh.


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