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Protecting the Performers: Setting a New Standard for Character Copyrightability

38 Pages Posted: 8 Sep 2010  

Mark Bartholomew

SUNY Buffalo Law School

Date Written: 2001


Copyright law protects expressions of ideas, but not the idea itself. Legal disputes over characters arise in the continuum between an idea for a character that has not been expressed at all, and an idea that has been given complete form and shape. The inconsistent common law tests developed to assess character copyrightability demonstrate the difficulty in pinpointing where the dividing line between an undeveloped idea and a sufficiently expressed character should be set. This Article offers a new paradigm for determining character copyrightability, particularly in the case of characters shaped through live performance, that tracks the Hegelian concept of personhood expressed through property ownership. Using the characters created by professional wrestlers as an example, I show how a performer’s physical attributes, story of origin, and public behavior can be studied to determine whether a character has been sufficiently delineated to deserved copyright protection.

Keywords: Copyright, Character, Wrestling, Hegel, Personhood

Suggested Citation

Bartholomew, Mark, Protecting the Performers: Setting a New Standard for Character Copyrightability (2001). Santa Clara Law Review, Vol. 41, No. 2, p. 341, 2001; Buffalo Legal Studies Research Paper . Available at SSRN:

Mark Bartholomew (Contact Author)

SUNY Buffalo Law School ( email )

528 O'Brian Hall
Buffalo, NY 14260-1100
United States
716-645-5959 (Phone)

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