When I was young, I created a character on the internet which I used for stories as well as kind of like a role playing alias. This character was strongly attached to me for a long time but eventually I shelved it a year or two back as I got older. I am now 20, and when I was watching an adult TV show, I saw they used my exact character, unmistakably, in their show. The artwork is copied almost exactly, as much as you would expect animators to be able to do. Even the name of their character is based off the naming I named my character with it, though it is slightly tweaked. My question pertains to if I have any recourse for having my character stolen. And also, what steps I should take to raise the issue with this show. I never filed copyrights or anything, but I have documented proof through the internet of my use of this character since 2011 whereas their show premiered in 2014. Thank you
You indicate that the "artwork is copied exactly".
Assuming this is a U.S. work, you may be able to sue for copyright infringement after, at least filing for a copyright registration.
You should discuss with an intellectual property attorney in a private consultation.
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The image of the fictional character you created may be copyright-protected if it's sufficiently creative. Some are not.
Assuming it is, and assuming you did not copy it from a preexisting image, then you own a copyright in the image -- even if you did not register that copyright with the Copyright Office.
Assuming all that, the issue is whether you can enforce your copyright against the producer of the television show.
The first part of that analysis is whether that other image infringes the copyright in yours. That occurs, as relevant here, if the other includes all or some of the protectable elements within yours such that the other is "substantially similar" to yours. Maybe, but maybe not. All anthropomorphic fictional characters have a head, face, arms, legs, etc. -- none of which are, in the abstract, copyrightable. Copyright attaches only to sufficiently creative expressions of the combination of those elements. Assuming the other image is substantially similar to the protectable elements within yours then you may have a legitimate copyright infringement claim.
But you may have waited too long to complain for your claim to have any value. You note that the "popular TV show" first aired in 2014. That was four years ago. The statute of limitation to bring a copyright infringement claim is three years. That means a copyright owner must bring an infringement claim within three years of learning about the infringement or with reasonable diligence should have known of the infringement. You didn't.
All is not lost, however. The rule is that a copyright owner may still bring an infringement claim for "continuing" infringements even when the first instance occurred more than three years ago. The damages that can be assessed in that situation are only those caused within the preceeding three years. That will limit your potential recovery. Moreover, because you didn't register your copyright you must prove the "actual" damages you suffered -- which will be difficult because you apparently did not commercialize the character. And, for the same reason, you would have to pay all your attorneys' fees to enforce your copyright (the court can't order the other side to pay them and your own attorney will not help you on contingency).
You need to have your own New York-licensed intellectual property attorney review the matter. Good luck.
The above response is general information ONLY and is not legal advice, does not form an attorney-client relationship, and should NOT be relied upon to take or refrain from taking any action. I am not your attorney. You should seek the advice of competent counsel before taking any action related to your inquiry.
You may, but there are a number of things to consider here and at the end of the day it would have to be in your pecuniary interest to invest in legal action.
Before you do anything further, I suggest that you consult with a lawyer in private and discuss your objectives in more detail. You can start by calling around to several for a free phone consultation, get some insights then pick the best fit to work with.
DISCLAIMER: this is not intended to be specific legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. No attorney-client relationship is formed with the law firm of Natoli-Legal, LLC on the basis of this posting.
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