Be Ready to Pay for Permission to Use Trademarked Characters

Q: I am a dentist and entrepreneur interested in setting up an independent video production. I would like to use a famous character in my production, but I'm not sure how to get copyright permission to use it. Whom should I contact? Would the cost be prohibitive?

--Roger Freeman, Beverly Hills


A: You first need to contact the owner of the trademarked character or the copyrighted material, ask for permission and then hope for the best. The companies that control this material may have an in-house licensing department, or they may refer you to their independent licensing agency.

Large companies like Warner Bros. usually have certain standards upon which they allow licenses. Typically, they license to companies that they already have track records with, and only if they have big checkbooks.

Be prepared for the rights holder, depending on how popular and well-known the character is, to demand a significant payment in advance to guarantee that you will pay it royalties based on how much you will make by using its character.

To avoid legal snafus, even if you want to use a quote from a book or a song's lyrics, you should contact the publisher first. They may ask for a written acknowledgment or they may demand payment.

--Jeffrey Graubart

Entertainment and intellectual-

property attorney,

Century City.


Q: I am interested in copyrighting my product so I can sell it in another country. How can I protect my product in an overseas market?

--Roger Freeman


A: Copyright laws have been improved recently, and with the international agreements and treaties that the United States has entered into, you should be provided with good protection for your product both here and overseas.

First, you should register a copyright in the United States, then file a copyright in the country where you plan to market your product.

To register a copyright in the United States, you must file papers with the U.S. Copyright Office in Washington, D.C. The registration fee is $20, and you can obtain the proper papers from the Government Printing Office in the Arco Plaza, 505 S. Flower St., Los Angeles, (213) 239-9844.

The process can sometimes be complicated, so if you prefer to hire an attorney, choose a specialist in intellectual property rights. The going rate for obtaining a U.S. copyright and getting legal guidance on how to place notices and display the copyrighted name on your product is under $500.

A lawyer who specializes in patents, copyrights and trademarks can also help you register your copyright overseas. The fee ranges from $200 to $1,300, depending on the country involved.

I am the regional coordinator of a nationwide network of attorneys who provide no-fee consultations to small-business owners with export questions. You can arrange for one by calling (213) 264-6882.

There are also two agencies designed specifically to help exporters, the Export Small Business Development Center, located in the California Mart building downtown, (213) 892-1111, and the U.S. Export Assistance Center, at the World Trade Center in Long Beach, (310) 980-4550.

--Michael Doram

International trade attorney, regional coordinator of Export Legal Assistance Network, Monterey Park


Q: I own a cleaning service and hire many immigrant workers. How can I know whether their employment identification cards are authentic or counterfeit? Am I supposed to accept any identification or am I responsible for verifying the authenticity of employment eligibility cards?

--Name withheld by request


A: You are not alone in your confusion. In fact, this problem perplexes employers all over the country. The easy answer is that if the document looks real and seems to relate to the individual you are hiring, you can legally hire the applicant.

If you can tell that the document has a new picture pasted over the old one, the dates on it don't logically match up or it is an obvious fake, you cannot legally hire the applicant. In general, employers are expected to use common sense, not be forensic document examiners.

There are 29 documents that can legally be used to prove identity and employment eligibility, including a U.S. passport, certificate of citizenship, employment authorization card, alien registration receipt card, driver's license and U.S. Social Security card. Some of the documents must be presented in combination.

The Immigration and Naturalization Service publishes a Handbook for Employers that goes through the specifics of eligibility, including explanations of what documents are acceptable, and outlines the employers' responsibility in hiring. The INS' Work Site Enforcement office provides these handbooks to employers and gives information on hiring and eligibility. To request a copy of the handbook, call (213) 894-6521 or write the U.S. Department of Justice, INS, Work Site Enforcement Unit, Room 7661-A, 300 N. Los Angeles St., Los Angeles 90012.

Three pilot programs are scheduled to begin Sept. 30, 1997 that will attempt to improve employers' ability to determine eligibility before an employee is hired, trained and is depended upon for production.

One program, which has already been tested in Industry and Santa Ana, will involve either a toll-free hotline or electronic access to the INS that will provide employers with verification of employment eligibility before an employee is hired.

--Angelo A. Paparelli

Attorney with Bryan, Cave LLP,

certified specialist in immigration and nationality law, Irvine

If you have a question about how to start or operate a small business, please mail it to Karen E. Klein in care of the Los Angeles Times, 1333 S. Mayflower Ave., Suite 100, Monrovia 91016 or e-mail it to Include your name and address. The column is designed to answer questions of general interest. It should not be construed as legal advice.

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