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Papercut of a recognisable character

Posted: Tue Apr 12, 2016 8:45 am
by lucylocket
Hello, I wonder if you can help.
I have always made my own original papercuts, hand drawn, designed and cut by me.
I have however made a recent papercut of helena bonham carter from the film, Alice in Wonderland. It is recognisable as the character from the Disney film, but I have hand drawn and hand cut the picture and modified it to my style.
Would this breach copyright, as the image belongs to disney, or would I be able to sell it, as i have created something new from it (a paper cut)
Thanks in advance for your reply.

Posted: Tue Apr 12, 2016 7:11 pm
by AndyJ
Hi lucylocket,

How detailed are your drawings? The problem here is that infringement could occur even if just one frame from a film is substantially copied. Here's what Section 17(4) says:
(4) Copying in relation to a film or broadcast includes making a photograph of the whole or any substantial part of any image forming part of the film or broadcast.
Elsewhere in the same section (s 17) it states that "copying in relation to a literary, dramatic, musical or artistic work means reproducing the work in any material form." Now technically speaking it may be that neither of these provisions apply to your work: you have not made a photographic copy, and a film is not an 'artistic work', but an authorised still taken from the film would be an artistic work so copying that would infringe the copyright in the still, and section 17(4) says that copying 'includes' making a photograph, implying that other forms of media used to copy might also infringe. So given that this is a very grey area, it would all seem to hang on whether you have copied a substantial part of the Disney version of the character of the Red Queen.

That said, there is no copyright in the Red Queen per se, just in her appearance as captured in the film. Say Helena Bonham Carter turned up to a publicity event in the costume of the Red Queen and you took a photograph of her, that would not infringe copyright in the character, at least not under UK law. In the USA things get slightly bizarre in this respect. And of course the character as she appeared in Lewis Carroll's book is not in copyright, it is only Disney's interpretation where the question arises.

If this did not involve Disney I would say you had less need to worry, but the Disney Corporation has a well-deserved reputation for rigorously defending its intellectual property, and so I fear you may encounter some objection from them if they become aware of you selling your cuts, and they too can discern a strong resemblance between your work and their Red Queen.

When you say your cut is recognisable from the Disney film, is it essential that it must be so? If you created your own version of the Red Queen, based on any other graphical representations such as the John Tenniel illustrations, and any previous performances you can find, this would certainly help prevent you becoming embroiled in a legal tussle with Disney, which you would np doubt find both stressful and possibly costly.

Posted: Wed Apr 13, 2016 11:55 am
by Nick Cooper
I might be worth noting that the earlier Disney film was very heavily based on the Tenniel illustrations, although Alice herself was markedly different. Working as close to the original artwork as possible should avoid any doubt.

Posted: Wed Apr 13, 2016 1:14 pm
by lucylocket
Thank you so much for your replies to this. Extremely helpful. I will change tact, and go with the original tenniel drawings as a basis to work from.
Thanks once again.