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We are creating a graphic novel based on the music of a particular band. Do we need to get permission to have project FUNDED?

Indianapolis, IN |

I am currently working on a project with a partner and friend. It is a graphic novel based on the music of a particular band. Consequently, we frequently and overtly use song titles, lyrics, references, etc. We are aware that if we were ever lucky enough to go through with publishing, we would need to get permission to use these things. However, we are looking into putting our project on Kickstarter. Kickstarter is a website where backers will fund a project. We are unaware of how copyright law works under these parameters. Do we need to get permission if the project is only being funded?

Attorney Answers 3


From the description you provide the answer would be that you need permission, although you are walking the line.

The first thing to recognize is that there is no difference between publishing the book in print or placing an electronic version of the book on Kickstarter in terms of copyright law. Either way, copyright infringement is still copyright infringement.

A graphic novel based on music, by itself, would likely be transformative enough that you would not be infringing on the copyright of the artist. You would want to meet with a copyright attorney to go over your final work to make sure that it is transformative enough, as there is always a chance that your use would cross over into copyright infringement.

When you start talking about using lyrics, that is where you get in copyright trouble. Reprinting lyrics from a song would be copyright infringement. You may be able to fall under the fair use doctrine (which will prevent a finding of copyright infringement), but that really depends on the details of your use.

The only way to get a 100% correct answer would be to meet with a copyright/intellectual property in private and discuss all the details of your book. You would not want to share all those details on a public forum, so no one here would be able to give you an exact answer.

You would also likely have an issue with trademark law judging by the description you provide. The intellectual property attorney will be able to go over those issues as well with you.

Answering of your question is merely general advice and does not constitute legal advice. None of the statements or implications made by this answer creates an attorney-client relationship with the attorney answering the question. The statements made in this answer are not to be solely relied upon and you should meet with a competent attorney to discuss any concerns you may have regarding this answer.

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Yes. You need to get permission before you take this any further. In your Kickstarter, you would be asking people to join with you in inducing copyright and trademark infringement and engaging in unfair competition. Further, you would be violating the terms of use of Kickstarter, which require you to represent that the funds are not being used for a project that would violate law.

You obviously need a basic education about intellectual property law. If you think it was appropriate to undertake this project without permission, then you are profoundly misinformed, You are going to get yourself into big trouble unless you take the time to learn IP law basics. This is obviously, blatantly, and unquestionably illegal activity----your graphic novel is a derivative work. If you thought that the doctrine of fair use would help you, you are gravely misinformed. And guess what---there are both civil and criminal penalties for trademark and copyright violations. Next time before you start a lame-brained project like this consult with intellectual property law counsel before you waste your time and money. Or get a license from the owners of the copyrights and trademarks.

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Molly Cristin Hansen

Molly Cristin Hansen


I would simply add that there are likely to be right of publicity issues here. If Asker is trying to raise money by exploiting the names and/or likenesses of the individual band members without permission, this approach is a non-starter.



I'd like to clear a few things up. We have not actually put the project on any website. No one, except for my partner and I have seen said project. I said in my question that we don't know enough about copyright or intellectual property law. If I did, I wouldn't have come here with the question. I came here seeking help, not to be berated. We fully intend to contact a lawyer regarding our situation. I admit we don't know the first thing about the legalities of our project. We're in art school. Consequently, I don't find your insults helpful.

Maurice N Ross

Maurice N Ross


No one berated you. And i stand by my comments---if you are in art school this is a good time for you to educate on the basics of IP law. This web-site is designed to match lawyers and clients---it is not for the purpose of providing meaningless "feel good" responses to questions from potential clients who need to do their homework.


You need to back up to square one on this and get permission if you are going to be creating and promoting a book on the music of a band. Besides, that's the way you make it sell - make it official. Depending on the band this might be something the band likes or something the band hates. You need to feel that out before soliciting funds on Kickstarter.

You don't make much sense. Putting this on Kickstarter without having the permission you need is crazy. It would be inducing infringement unless and until you legitimize it with the permission. Basically, since you have no permission, you are asking people to fund copyright infringement on a wing and a prayer, namely that by the good graces of luck the band is going to permit this. And, it probably is not the band's call but rather the label's call. The label is going to want a pretty penny for this permission since they know that without it you have no book to publish. Unlike mandated copyright royalties for music, there is no ceiling on what percentage they can charge for something like this book. And, there is nothing saying they can't decide they like the idea and will steal it and do it themselves, just varying the content to avoid infringement.

I agree with attorney Ross, this is pretty lame-brained. You might be brilliant guys, but you are off on the wrong foot, here, since your feet are standing on legal quicksand. At least you had the good sense to come to Avvo and ask. Now have the better sense to halt this until you consult with a copyright lawyer or an entertainment lawyer. It might make sense to find one in the town where the label you need is headquartered and to make that one that has had past dealings with that label. Who makes the approach and to whom the approach is made and how it's done will make all the difference. I can tell you one thing, if you do it yourself you're gonna get turned down. Labels expect serious deals to come from agents or attorneys they know or can quickly verify and they don't expect it to come after the fact like you proposed. Labels expect to be in on the ground floor and not be an afterthought.

Rethink this and get the permission first. If you go on Kickstarter it should be to get funding to work up proposals to the labels to get permission so you can start a book, not to start a book and then hope for permission.

I am not your lawyer and you are not my client. Free advice here is without recourse and any reliance thereupon is at your sole risk. This is done without compensation as a free public service. I am licensed in IL, MO, TX and I am a Reg. Pat. Atty. so advice in any other jurisdiction is strictly general advice and should be confirmed with an attorney licensed in that jurisdiction.

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