A copyright gives the owner exclusive rights in an original creative work. Although copyright protection automatically exists for a cartoon character depicted in a tangible form, registration with the U.S. Copyright Office provides public notice of copyright and a basis for enforcement of your rights under the U.S. Copyright Act. Online copyright registration has advantages, such as a lower filing fee and faster processing than registration by mail. Copyright law does not protect the name, general theme or other intangible attributes of a cartoon character, but federal trademark, state and common law may protect these attributes.
Depict your cartoon character in a fixed form, such as a drawing. Upload an image of the drawing onto your computer.
Go to the Copyright Office website and click “electronic Copyright Office” (eCO) to register a cartoon character online. Log in if you already have an account, or follow the prompts to create a new account if you are a first-time user.
Click “Register a New Claim” in the left-hand column of the home page. Select “Work of the Visual Arts” as the type of work, and follow the prompts to fill in required information, including title, publication, contact information and certificate mailing address. Click “Continue” after each step or select “Save for Later” to finish the application later.
Follow the prompts to review and certify the application. Click “Checkout” and pay the nonrefundable registration fee, which is $45 as of 2012. Fill in payment information to pay by electronic transfer, credit or debit card, or deposit account.
Submit a sample, known as a deposit, of your cartoon character. Upload a digital copy onto the eCO website if the cartoon character is unpublished or only published electronically. Print a shipping slip to mail with hard copies, if your work requires a hard copy deposit. You have finished filing your online registration.
Return to the home page and click “My Application” to print a copy of your application for your records. Check your email account for confirmation that the Copyright Office received your application. Track the status of your application by clicking the case number on the eCO home page. You will receive your certificate of registration in the mail.
Register By Mail
Obtain printable copyright registration forms from the Copyright Office website. Go to “Forms,” click “Form VA,” and complete the form on your computer or print the form and fill it in by hand. Write to or call the Copyright Office to obtain forms in the mail.
Submit two hard copies for a cartoon character published in the United States. Submit one hard copy of your cartoon character if it is unpublished or was first published outside the United States, or if it is part of a collective work. Deposit requirements may vary in some situations.
Mail the completed form and $45 filing fee, in the form of check or money order, to the Copyright Office. Send by registered or certified mail to receive confirmation that the Copyright Office received your application. The Copyright Office will mail your certificate of registration.
If your cartoon character or comic strip regularly appears in a magazine or other periodical, contact the Copyright Office for information on group registrations.
Copyright registration extends only to a cartoon character submitted at the time of registration and does not protect works to be produced in the future.
Judith Evans has been writing professionally since 2009, specializing in gardening and fitness articles. An avid gardener, Evans has a Bachelor of Arts in political science from the University of New Hampshire, a Juris Doctor from Vermont Law School, and a personal trainer certificate from American Fitness Professionals and Associates.