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Can Copyright Law Safeguard Character Costumes?


In the 1930s, this new concept of protecting the characters and character merchandising came into existence when The Disney Studios started to protect and licensed their characters such as Mickey Mouse, Minnie and Donald Duck. Then in the later years a store was established through which all these characters were granted licenses to manufacture low priced merchandise in many forms such as clothing, toys, bags, etc.

These characters were heavily promoted for toy marketing industry. In the captivating realm of storytelling, character costumes have emerged as iconic symbols that embody the very essence of fictional personas. As society increasingly celebrates the realms of imagination and artistic expression, it becomes imperative to explore the legal framework that safeguards these character costumes within the ambit of the Indian Copyright Act.

This blog post delves into the intricacies of protecting character costumes under this legislation, unravelling its significance in the broader spectrum of intellectual property rights.

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The Artistry of Character Costumes

Beyond their functional purpose, character costumes are an amalgamation of creative thought, skilful craftsmanship, and a deep understanding of the fictional personalities they represent. These ensembles transcend conventional clothing, encapsulating the distinctive traits, emotions, and narratives of the characters they adorn.

The meticulous selection of fabrics, colours, accessories, and intricate detailing collectively contribute to a visual identity that resonates with audiences worldwide. Consequently, character costumes evolve into valuable artistic works deserving of legal protection.

Copyright Protection: Establishing the Framework

The Indian Copyright Act of 1957, the cornerstone of intellectual property protection in the country, extends its umbrella to encompass a broad array of original artistic, literary, musical, and dramatic works. Copyright protection is provided to the owners and the only creator who has created all the characters under the law. The character should be unique and distinct in order to get a copyright protection 

The Copyright Act, 1957 provides very strict protections for the copyright holders and the creator who has created the character. Character costumes, by their very nature, fall under the category of artistic works and potentially qualify for copyright protection. However, for this safeguard to be applicable, the character costumes must meet the fundamental criterion of originality.

Originality, in the context of character costumes, signifies that the design is not commonplace or derivative but rather showcases a certain degree of creativity and uniqueness. This means that while the broader concept of a character’s appearance might be prevalent, the specific arrangement of visual elements, distinctive attributes, and individualized embellishments must reflect an innovative and novel approach.

In one of the most prominent cases Arbaaz Khan v. North Star Entertainment Pvt. Ltd. (2016) it was proved that the Hon’ble High Court of Bombay had examined a major issue that copyright subsists in the character “Chulbul Pandey” from the famous movie Dabangg which was a copyrightable. The High Court was also of the view that the character was a unique character and it was portrayed in a unique way.

The script and the dialogues of the movie was a form of literary work and it was subject to protection under the Copyright Act, 1957. Eventually the court granted the plaintiff the absolute right of the character and protected the script of the movie too. With the help of this case it was also proved that the ability of a character to be protected under the India Copyright’s Act depends heavily upon the distinctiveness and the uniqueness of the character.  

Navigating Challenges and Controversies

Amid the journey to provide legal protection to character costumes, several challenges emerge. One prominent challenge lies in distinguishing between the functional and artistic aspects of a costume. For instance, components designed solely for practical functionalities, such as a superhero’s utility belt, could be subject to exclusion from copyright protection.

The Indian Copyright Act primarily safeguards artistic expressions, and elements of a costume that serve primarily utilitarian purposes might not fall within its purview. Derivative works also pose an intriguing dilemma. Character costumes often undergo adaptations, reimaginations, and reinterpretations as they transition across different media or time periods. This raises questions about the scope of copyright protection for the original costume and its derivatives. Striking a balance between honouring the rights of the original creator and fostering creative reinterpretation necessitates the establishment of precise guidelines and interpretations within the legal framework.

Upholding Copyright Protection of the Character Costumes 

Enforcing copyright protection for character costumes necessitates a robust legal approach. Copyright holders must be equipped to establish ownership and substantiate infringement claims convincingly. Comprehensive documentation, including sketches, design iterations, and records of the creative process, plays a pivotal role in establishing the costume’s originality and the creator’s authorship.

In instances of infringement, copyright holders have recourse to legal remedies. These may encompass seeking injunctions to restrain further unauthorized usage and pursuing claims for damages that acknowledge both the economic and moral rights of the creators. Such legal mechanisms serve as deterrents against intellectual property violations, thereby reinforcing the value of creative efforts and fostering a culture of respect for artistic integrity.


While there are no direct 1 to 1 intersections of Indian law and character costumes, it can be inferred from the existing cases and statutes that an exceptionally distinctive character costume is likely to get the protection of the courts as part of the overall character. The explicit inclusion of character costumes under the protective umbrella of the Indian Copyright Act would be a vital step in acknowledging the contributions of designers and artists to the world of creativity and entertainment.

Extending copyright protection to character costumes that exemplify originality and innovation recognizes the moral and financial rights of creators. Ultimately, the protection of character costumes not only nurtures the artistic spirit but also lays the foundation for a robust ecosystem of intellectual property rights in India.

Author: Pranjal Gupta, Legal Intern at PA Legal.

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