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Can I sell a poster that outlines the plot of a movie in single words? ex- 'Small town. Shark. Eat. Boat. Shoot. Explode.' -Jaws

New York, NY |

Can I also add a minimalist graphic next to it. So for instance the example I gave of Jaws. Could I then add a Shark graphic to it? So I also need to add reference to the film?

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Attorney answers 4



Conceptually, I like the idea. But anytime you seek to exploit the trademarks, copyrights, likeness or image of another it can be a problem.

If you look at this way, the only commercial appeal or value for what you described derives from the association with the movie JAWS. But you are not associated with the movie nor have you licensed the right to associate yourself with the movie. This is not the strictly "legal" analysis but I am hoping that this makes it clear why it can be a problem.

There are, of course, a number of nuanced legal issues involved here as the question , in my opinion, is a very good one and sort of reads like a law school essay exam question.

You may want to consider creating your own clever configurations and stay clear of associating with the IP of very wealthy media concerns unless you get a license to do so.

I will link you to some general helpful info below and invite you to contact me if you care to discuss in more detail.

Best regards,
Natoli-Lapin, LLC
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Without obtaining a license first, this is a very bad idea. With regard to your particular example, Universal owns the trademark "JAWS" covering posters under U.S. Fed TM Registration number 1100741. Producing and selling a poster under your example would constitute trademark infringement and could end up costing you thousands of dollars, if not more.

I am not your attorney and any posts/messages or responses to posts/messages can not establish an attorney-client relationship. You should not rely upon free legal advice and I disclaim any liability for the results if you do.

Bruce E. Burdick

Bruce E. Burdick


Agreed, you will be shark bait for Universal unless you have a license from them.


That's clever, but as risky as swimming in shark-filled waters. JAWS is a heavily merchandized brand name of Universal, with poster sales being one of the biggest items of merchandize. The posters for JAWS use short pithy sayings like The JAWS 2 poster with the saying JUST WHEN YOU THOUGHT IT WAS SAFE TO GO BACK IN THE WATER. And, you want to add a shark graphic? Really? Isn't that exactly what universal did on their posters, in their themepark ride, on their merchandise. JAWS will eat you if you try this, legally speaking, without their permission.

See a New York licensing attorney, trademark attorney, or IP attorney and have them go to Universal to get 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.


A lawyer's job is to explain the business and legal risks, and then let a client make the final decision as to whether a creative concept such as this is with the risk. In this situation, the risk is extraordinarily high that you will get sued if you make and market this poster without a license. Jaws is one of the most successful and well-known trademarks in the history of motion pictures---and the owners of the trademark and related rights generate millions of dollars of sales from licensing posters, hats, T-shirts, and other products. You are stepping on some mighty powerful shoes if you pursue this.

On the other hand, there is case law suggesting that T-shirts are a form of expression, and your creative approach to designing this t-shirt might qualify as fair use. But the fair use doctrine is fraught with risk and uncertainty---even though a court may applaud you for your creativity, it still will probably find that this is not fair use because of your commercial purpose.

In short, very high risk of liability, very high risk of getting sued, and very high risk that the revenues you generate will not cover your attorneys fees in litigating the various claims against you. But it is, of course, your decision as to whether to assume the risk.