Fake Historical Robot begets Fictional Historical Robot
November 1, 2005 9:38 PM   Subscribe

Copyright infringement through gullibility: So, we've discussed Boilerplate previously (well, twice, actually; no, make that thrice). He's one of a handful of Victorian robots listed among the Mechanical Marvels of the Nineteenth Century. Chris Elliott (yes, that Chris Elliott) probably suspected that the robot wasn't real, but he must have assumed it to be a Victorian Era hoax and not a modern day one because he incorporated the fictional robot character into his upcoming pseudo-historical novel [NYTimes link; registration-free equivalent]. To add to the clear-cut case of copyright trouble, Boilerplate is also a character in the original hoax-perpetrator's graphic novel. Mr. Elliott says his younger brother performed the historical research.
posted by nobody (10 comments total)
You can copyright characters? I had no idea. How lame.
posted by teece at 9:51 PM on November 1, 2005

Of course you can. Otherwise people could make crappy bumperstickers of Calvin praying or pissing on a corporate logo.
posted by Citizen Premier at 10:09 PM on November 1, 2005

Ah! But I believe the silhouette of a copyrighted character can be used.

When I was in Psych. 101, we were shown silhouettes of Rorschach inkblots, but not the real thing, because then they would have to pay the licence fee to use the copyright images.
posted by Balisong at 10:55 PM on November 1, 2005


Not copyright. Trademark.

Boilerplate, Archibald Campion, and all related marks and indicia are trademarks of Paul Guinan.

Had he not secured a trademark, Guinan would still have certain common-law rights.
posted by dhartung at 12:02 AM on November 2, 2005

In many instances characters are considered copyrightable subject matter. Depends on the facts. There is a long line of cases that support this proposition.
posted by anathema at 3:37 AM on November 2, 2005

Just to clarify dhartung's statement, had Guinan not secured a trademark registration, he still may have certain common-law rights.
posted by anathema at 3:40 AM on November 2, 2005

But Paramount still has the trademark on Guinan, right?
posted by alumshubby at 4:55 AM on November 2, 2005

Is someone going to sue over all that slash fiction out there on the web?
posted by Pollomacho at 6:29 AM on November 2, 2005

[Oops. I lifted "copyright" from the NYTimes article. Where you currently see "copyright infringement," please mentally replace with "plagiarism."]
posted by nobody at 7:11 AM on November 2, 2005

Hi, I'm the co-author of Boilerplate, and this is my first MeFi post. To clarify, you can trademark a character, logo, or trade name, with certain limitations. You can copyright many different kinds of works, including web sites and graphic novels. It so happens that the Boilerplate material from our web site is reproduced in our graphic novel, Heartbreakers Meet Boilerplate, which was published several months before Chris Elliott's book and submitted for copyright registration. So, because Chris's book includes drawings of Boilerplate as well as snippets of text based on our web site, this involves both trademark and copyright. Thankfully, Chris has thus far been a stand-up guy about this since he learned of his big goof.
posted by bigredhair at 12:18 PM on November 4, 2005

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