Fandom Today, What’s Copyright Infringement and What’s Not?

Have you ever heard of Little Lulu? I didn’t think so. Here’s why..

The same familiar faces of animated characters from cartoons and comics pop up a lot during the holiday season, what do you think it costs to use their likeness?

Being a fan and wanting to use their likeness in one of your creations is illegal, so it will cost some thousands of dollars and time from your life.

Unlike advertising campaigns for big brands like MetLife, who uses Charles Schultz’s Snoopy for their insurance company’s brand messaging, fans can’t really do the same thing without the possibility of receiving a cease and dessist order.

So rather than taking the assistance from fans to help a character prolong their longevity in the public’s consciousness, fans are more likely than not punished for using the likeness of the favorite animated charaters.

So that’s why you’ve never heard of Little Lulu.

First Little Lulu Cartoon Feb. 23, 1935 (Source: Marge)

An attempt at a reboot was made in the 1990’s but for whatever reason, it didn’t make a dent in popular culture the way Snoopy has for over half a century.

Perhaps copyright owners should consider this before punishing a fan or individual who is trying to help in the reboot or revival of a forgotten character:

since fan creations don’t take away sales of the original work, they are often seen as free promotion and a way to grow the brand without cost or effort. Jonathan Bailey

Brenda Starr, Illustration Credits: Dale Messick (Left) & James Boyle (Right)

Brenda Starr for example is a character that was a very popular animated character, and one of the first female heroines to help in breaking the glass ceiling for women before the female empowerment movement began.

Was she just a flash in the pan, as her firery hair would indicate? Speaking of flash, Flashdance (1983) the film was seen as a flash in the pan performance for Jennifer Beals. Her performance might have seem apogryphal but not so. Jennifer Beals continued to work ever since, not seeking the ever constant flashing lights and fame, but successful in her own right. Her character, like Brenda Starr, changed the way we see, think of, and treat women. More than just a pretty face, Jennifer Beal’s character gave young girls and women hope, motivating them to break through their fears engrained in them by sosciety. In so doing, characters such as Starr and Beals changed society in a subtle and seminal way. Not a flash in the pan.

Image credit: The Academy posted on Facebook Dec. 4, 2015.

One of the things we don’t talk about that much is how much characters give us. –Jennifer Beals 

Perhaps the impact these characters made was forgotten, but that’s not their fault. It takes continued work and investment to fuel the longevity of a fire so we don’t lose sight of it or forget it. Fans aren’t trying to fan the flames. However their attempts to help characters live on are punished. A cease fire of sorts instigated by copyright holders who don’t understand the potential and the altruism of the efforts being made by fans is what usually occurs.

Created by Dale (Dalia) Messick in 1940, the Brenda Starr comic strip appeared in around 250 publications at its peak until its termination in 2011 by the decision of its home publisher the Chicago Tribune.

The first of the three in the new mysteries series, available for purchase to the general public in April of 2016.

Let’s see where the ill-fated Brenda Starr Mysteries reboot goes. Perhaps it will be another cautionary tale like Little Lulu. Best of luck to Starr’s new author J.J. Salem and the Chicago Tribune Content Agency.


What might be more universally appealing and successful is what’s being suggested by the person who has been running the Brenda Starr Facebook page since 2008 instead.

Timeless, but it would like doing right by the character is copyright infringement.

Snippet from 1956 Brenda Starr Comic Strip (Source: Dale Messick) Original available for purchase here.
For Further Reading

An hour-long presentation on copyright law and fan art from San Diego ComicCon 2012, presented by a lawyer from DeviantArt who once worked as a copyright enforcer for Paramount.

Fan Art vs. Copyright Infringement: What’s Legal?

Fan Art and Fair Use: One Truth and Five Myths

Etsy’s Craft Balance: Fans vs. Trademark HoldersDoes Fan Art Violate Copyright?

Legal Guide for the Visual Artist

About Brenda Starr