All's fair in copyright and costumes: fair use defense to copyright infringement in cosplay.

Author:Madonia, Molly Rose
  1. INTRODUCTION II. TYPES OF COSPLAY A. Professional Cosplay B. Casual Cosplay III. GENERAL COPYRIGHT PROVISIONS A. The Copyright Act of 1976 IV. DEFENSE OF FAIR USE. A. Purpose and Character of the Use B. Nature of the Copyrighted Work C. Amount and Substantiality of the Portion Used in Relation to the Copyrighted Work as a Whole. D. The Effect of the Use upon the Potential Market for or Market Value of the Copyrighted Work V. CONCLUSION I. INTRODUCTION

    Thousands of people stand in line for the opening of one of the biggest events of the year. The excitement, camaraderie, and anticipation build as the clock ticks closer to the doors opening. It is August in Chicago and people have travelled from near and far to attend one of the grandest conventions in the Midwest, hosted at one of the largest venues: the Rosemont Donald E. Stephens Convention Center. At just a few minutes to opening, you can see the excited smiles begin and the antsy wiggle of anticipation grip the crowd. Upbeat sayings like, "It's going to be great in there!" and "I've been waiting for this all year!" ripple through the attendees, people of all ages. As the doors open and people fill the many halls, all laughing, pointing, and taking pictures, many of them have something in common--they are dressed up like their favorite video game, television show, or movie character.

    Costume play, or "cosplay," is the art of designing, purchasing, or crafting pieces of a costume or an entire costume to resemble popular characters. (1) Cosplay provides its hobbyists with a highly creative outlet of expression shared by thousands of people all over the world. The thought and skill used to replicate popular figures from a static channel to real life sizes is undeniable. As the frequency of comic conventions increases, so does the rise in cosplay among fans. These conventions are essential to the cosplay hobby because they allow the hobbyists to travel from all over the country to a single location to share their craft. However, are cosplayers infringing on the registered copyrights of those characters they know and love? Or, are cosplayers recreating the popular characters in a different medium, transforming the character fairly and legally? This Comment argues that cosplay does not infringe on the registered copyrights of the characters, and even if it did, cosplayers would qualify for the defense of fair use.

    This Comment addresses the ambiguity and importance of cosplay within the area of copyright law. Section II discusses the types of cosplay relevant to this topic. Section III gives background of the Copyright Act of 1976 and shapes the statutory discussion of cosplay. Section IV posits that the creative use of the original characters qualifies for a fair use defense. Section V concludes and briefly posits why copyright holders would not likely sue cosplayers for infringement.


    Cosplay can be divided broadly into two major categories: professional and casual. This section defines, describes, and illustrates the differences between the two.

    The first instance of cosplay can be traced back to 1939, when Forrest J. Ackerman strutted through "the first ever World Science Fiction Convention. in futuristicostume." (2) While possibly invented by the Americans, the Japanese perfected the trend. Takahashi Nobuyuki was the first to use the term cosplay in 1984 and encouraged his readers to emulate his characters. (3) With the rise in popularity of San Diego Comic-Con in the 1990s and early 2000s as a cosplay "Mecca," coupled with international popularity of cosplay conventions and summits, modern cosplay was born and has since trickled into the mainstream. (4) The issue of copyright infringement has come to the forefront of this hobby because the pervasiveness and skill of cosplayers has also increased over the years. Cosplayers strive, and many succeed, to completely recreate and embody their characters, which are copyrightable material. It is important to examine the issue of copyright within this area because the heightened skill level and standards also increases the likelihood that cosplayers may be liable for copyright infringement.

    It should be noted that there is an extensive range of cosplay between professional and casual. In fact, most cosplayers fall within this in-between range. Both groups have immense passion for their hobby. However, this Comment will examine the differences between the copyright implications of the professional and casual cosplayers' use of characters and designs.

    1. Professional Cosplay

    There is no concrete definition of professional cosplay because it is, first and foremost, a hobby. Professional cosplay is differentiated from casual cosplay in that professionals are often paid to make appearances at conventions or events like any regular celebrity. (5) Professional cosplayers (6) are people who are known within the convention circuit as people who exemplify cosplay as an art form and have excelled in its expression. Their costumes are often large, elaborate, and expensive, with great detail and care in the creation and implementation.

    Professional cosplayers can often spend upwards of 150 hours on a costume. (7) The cosplayer must first select a character, which can depend on the location of the appearance or convention, the weather, and the cosplayers own body. They must then reimagine what the costume would look like on a human being, as many characters found in manga are demi-human or unconventionally shaped. Then the professional cosplayer begins to sketch the design from headto-toe, including accessories; to research composition materials; to decide which pieces to build themselves; and, if there is time, or budget, to purchase pieces from commercial manufacturers or other professional cosplayers.

    Physically building a costume includes extensive selection of specific starting materials, such as un-dyed cotton or expensive leather, the use of computer-aided design imagining and engineering to design and build a larger than life blueprint, and painting, sculpting, and molding of accessories, weapons, and other final touches that make the character unmistakable. Often, the cosplayers must carry their costumes piecemeal to the site and then be sewn or glued into the costume.

    Professional cosplayers are considered professional by the number of appearances made at conventions, word-of-mouth of their abilities, or the quality of their creations. However, their journey to make a living by cosplay is no less difficult than any other professional occupation. For example, professional cosplayer Yaya Han gives similar advice to novice cosplayers as would any business owner give to a student:

    Be prepared to work every single day, prepare to starve a lot at the beginning, prepare to make mistakes that will haunt you, prepare for a lot of criticism, and prepare to lie awake at night pondering your life choices often. But really, if it allows you to work for yourself and make a living doing something you love, it's completely worth it. (8) B. Casual Cosplay

    Casual cosplay often involves less creation of each individual piece of the costume, but still involves creative expression. A cosplayer must still see a character and determine how it will look on them individually. They also must transform the character from television or print dimensions into reality using careful planning and preparation. However, the casual cosplayer does not spend as much time and money on the physical preparation of their costume as the professional cosplayer.

    Physical creation of a casual cosplay often requires the modification or repurposing of everyday clothing in order to embody a character. Creating the costume usually takes between five to ten hours depending on the complexity of the character, the availability of materials, and the skill of the cosplayer. Casual cosplayers often rely on homemade markers to identify their characters, instead of large, obvious representations.

    The casual cosplayer attends the same conventions as professionals, but as a patron and supporter of the "Con," not as a paid guest. They are there to enjoy the Con, the people, and the art, but not to sign autographs or mingle in a professional capacity.

    An example of casual cosplay is shown below: (9)


    1. The Copyright Act of 1976

    In order to encourage creation and dissemination of works of authorship in all their various forms, the Copyright Act of 1976 (Copyright Act) gave copyright owners control over most, if not all, activities of conceivable commercial value. (10) There are three basic requirements under the Copyright Act for a work to be copyrightable: originality, (11) fixation, (12) and included as category of protectable subject-matter. (13)

  4. Defense of Fair Use

    The Copyright Act provides several defenses applying to the use of copyrighted material. One such defense is the defense...

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