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Copyrighting puppets

Discussion in 'Puppet News' started by puppetron, Nov 19, 2007.

  1. puppetron

    puppetron New Member

    so, i'm (supposedly) desigining and building puppets for a guy who wants to create a puppet sketch show here in Chicago. we're still talking about pricing and such (i want to charge about $360 in labor for each puppet and then about $80 for materials, but he doesn't want to spend that much because it's only in a workshop phase). but anyways, i was wondering how the copyrighting on these guys goes. I assume that the design is copyrighted to me and i can make more if i want, but he gets the puppet and can do whatever he wants with it once it is sold to him. any advice is appreciated, i'm sure there are a lot of you who have come across this issue before.

    thanks,
    Mary Kate
  2. TheCreatureWork

    TheCreatureWork Active Member

    A easy way to copyright

    You can always make a copy of your pattern- along with some pictures and mail them to yourself- don't open the mail when you get it :) the post mark will act as a reference to when you made it. Easy and cheap.;)
  3. bezalel

    bezalel New Member

    Well I'm certainly not an attorney so don't take this as legal advice, but here's what I know. The first question I would ask is whether you are creating the characters or is the client providing drawings/sketches of the characters they want built. That can make a world of difference. If they are providing sketches and you are merely building puppets of their characters, then you can consider the job a build. They own the copyright of the characters.

    If the company is asking you to create characters and build the puppets, then that's a different story. As soon as you put your pencil to the paper, everything you create is protected under U.S. Copyright Laws. You can follow that up by submitting your work to the Library of Congress, although it is not necessary to be protected under the law (it does provide more of a case in court and entitles you to sue for certain things in addition to copyright infringement like attorneys fees). You would therefore own the copyrights to the characters, UNLESS a written agreement was agreed upon and signed by both parties stating that any work you do for the company is a "work for hire". "Work for hire" is a legal term and has a legal definition. The agreement should be done and signed before any creative work begins. Then and only then does the company own the copyright to the characters you create for them.

    You can find out more about copyright laws here - www.copyright.gov.
  4. puppetron

    puppetron New Member

    thanks guys. I'm doing all of the designing and building, he's merely suggested the kinds of characters he'd like, it's all very vague still, he's in busy producer mode which means i send him emails and voicemails and he doesn't respond to me for days, but i figure i should know this in case he asks.

    i assume that the "work for hire" scenario is sort of how it works when you're working for Henson. all the designs and building you do belongs to them. whereas if i'm just selling this guy the puppets, the designs are copyrighted to me and he owns the puppets themselves. he hasn't mentioned the term "work for hire" but then again, he's not a puppet company, just a producer working on a concept.

    this is really helpful, so thanks!
    Mary Kate
  5. Was Once Ernie

    Was Once Ernie New Member

    Mary Kate,

    Before you do anything, get the agreement of who owns what IN WRITING! Don't assume anything. I can't stress this enough.

    From someone who's been burned...

    :p
  6. ravagefrackle

    ravagefrackle New Member


    NO IT WONT , i have had many discusions with a entertainment and copyright attorney , this will do no good whats so ever!

    if you want a copyright then get a real copyright ,
  7. ravagefrackle

    ravagefrackle New Member

    you are not charging enough for your time.or your materials, im just guessing since i do not know what your designs look like, but

    $360.00 in labor? $80 in materials,

    what about a design fee? and transfer of owner ship? if the show takes off, they get all the profits and you get nothing.

    are you only paying your self $8 and hour?

    you would be better off renting him some puppets , make it clear in a contract the puppets, thier likeness and designs are yours, and thet you are renting him the puppest for a given amount of time to workshop or film thier show.and that atthe end of the agreed upon time the puppets will be returned to you.

    if they want to purchase the puppets out right, designs and all , your price needs to go way up.


    Sorry to go on a tear here,

    but this is the problem when Beginers (and i am only assuming you are new to the industry)are offered work

    you look at it as hey , my stuff will be on stage, or on tv, that will get me further along.

    it aint so the entertainment industry has a short memory and staffs change all the tiem.

    , We puppet designers have no Unions, or Guilds watching our backs when it comes to pricing our work, but look at it this way,

    if you were a writer on this show you would make sure you have a piece of the pie comming to you.
    (hence the strike , which is affecting alot of us people who are self employed and service the Tv and Film industry, but will see no benifits from this strike)

    same for the creator,he wants his cut to

    same for the Backers or producers., boy oh boy do they want a cut.


    so exactly why would you be willing to give away your time , money , and talent for pretty much nothing?it seems like no one involved is a designer, or fabrictor, or really even knows about puppets for tv.

    you need to retain legal council, or at least speak to a lawer who specializes in this sort of stuff.

    secondly, By charging so little you are devauling all of us,

    Most people in TV,Theatre and to a lesser degree film, have no idea what goes into Puppet creation,

    I get people asking me to build puppets all the time, and after going over thier designs, or discussing a original design of my own, they are shocked to learn how much it can cost.Most think....

    "Hey its a puppet , how much could that cost , $200 $300, and once our show is a hit, will make a fortune, to heck with the puppet designer"

    Do not perpetuate the generalaztion that our work is worth less than a writer, or actor,or a painter, or a fine arts sculptur. you are creating the product they are going to try and sell, for all the writers nice words, and the directors clever camera angles, even the puppeteers funny voice, all the kids will see is WHAT YOU CREATED, and if the show works, when they go to the toy store, its your work that is going to sell the product.

    sorry to be so agressive here, but if puppetbuilders, and designers dont start valuing thier work, how do you expect anyone else to?
  8. Onath

    Onath Member

    wow awesome post ravage frackle. Thanks I will remember this post next time I sell a puppet.
  9. puppetron

    puppetron New Member

    Ravagefrackle,
    that was a pretty good post there. and while i do agree strongly with what you're saying, this is my first "big" gig, deep down i know i should be charging more, but it's hard for me to reconcile pricing when i feel like if this falls through, poof, it's back to square one. i mean, i'm not a big name in the industry, not incredibly advanced in my puppet making skills (i've only been building for about 3 years) and he was very clear about not wanting to invest a ton in the workshop stage, while he's still figuring out if the show will work. he did talk about spending more if the show proves to be feasible, which we'll have to talk about more. i looked at andrew's puppet pricing calculator and used it as a guideline for my prices. i'm charging about $18/hr and each puppet takes me about 20 hours to build, hence the $360, and i calculated material cost to be $87 (I did forget about shipping, so when we work out a price i'll have to add that in). i'm trying to reach a happy medium, not undervaluing myself while not scaring him away.

    i do like the idea of having a rental fee and then if/when the show takes off i'll make more money by selling him the puppets and/or designing more. there is supposedly another builder from LA working with him and i'm currently trying to get his email so i can ask him how much he's charging for his work.

    it may sound like i disagree with you, but i don't. i'm just trying to figure this all out for the first time. thank you all for the advice.

    Mary Kate
  10. ravagefrackle

    ravagefrackle New Member

    i do understand your perdicement, but you need to look out for yourself,

    i hear the old"WHEN WE GET MONEY WE WILL SPEND MORE " all the time, it never happens, in the end, only you can protect yourself,

    as for your pricing, i do not know what you things look like, simple puppets may not take much time, but since you are designing from scrathc u need to charge a design fee, the time involved in sketching out the characetrs and presenting them, also youll need to work in a clause about alterations, since they will mostlikley want you to change something .

    i understand thier desire to not spend money, but you need to not be so trusting that they will take care of you in the end.
  11. Luke

    Luke Active Member

    My advice to you, as most important than anything else is to have him sign an agreement stating that he is licensed to use the puppets for the TV broadcast of that show only, and anything else, ie merchandising, home distribution and any other licensing rights are excluded. Also have it put in the agreement does not include ownership of the character rights. Last but not least make sure to negotiate a credit in the titles - "puppets by" and your company name. That way whatever you charge you get some free advertising at the least. It is defintely worth the money having a proper lawyer draw up any agreement.

    Everything Ravage said is totally valid though, you have to protect yourself as it might be a small local TV show today, but who knows whether it might catch on and be a big hit tommorow.
  12. bezalel

    bezalel New Member

    I just wanted to post a bit of clarification here. The following is taken from the Library of Congress' copyright site under FAQ:

    When is my work protected?
    Your work is under copyright protection the moment it is created and fixed in a tangible form that it is perceptible either directly or with the aid of a machine or device.

    Do I have to register with your office to be protected?
    No. In general, registration is voluntary. Copyright exists from the moment the work is created. You will have to register, however, if you wish to bring a lawsuit for infringement of a U.S. work. See Circular 1, Copyright Basics, section “Copyright Registration.”

    Why should I register my work if copyright protection is automatic?
    Registration is recommended for a number of reasons. Many choose to register their works because they wish to have the facts of their copyright on the public record and have a certificate of registration. Registered works may be eligible for statutory damages and attorney's fees in successful litigation. Finally, if registration occurs within 5 years of publication, it is considered prima facie evidence in a court of law. See Circular 1, Copyright Basics, section “Copyright Registration” and Circular 38b, Highlights of Copyright Amendments Contained in the Uruguay Round Agreements Act (URAA), on non-U.S. works.

    I’ve heard about a “poor man’s copyright.” What is it?

    The practice of sending a copy of your own work to yourself is sometimes called a “poor man’s copyright.” There is no provision in the copyright law regarding any such type of protection, and it is not a substitute for registration.

    Personally, I would totally recommend registering your works with the Library of Congress. The cost of registration is $45. Well worth it. You would be able to present a much more solid case if you had to go to court, plus you can sue for attorneys fees.

    BUT, know this....that your work is YOUR WORK and is protected under copyright law the moment you create it, even without registering it.


    Copyright laws are in place to protect artists, writers, poets, and puppet builders :) and are inherently (since changes made in 1978) on YOUR side. I just don't want anyone to think that their creations do not belong to them and that they are not due their rights to the creations, even if they didn't register their work with the government.
  13. bezalel

    bezalel New Member

    Amen.:eek:
  14. staceyrebecca

    staceyrebecca Member

    Bezalel, I was just about the post that.
  15. MGov

    MGov New Member

    Puppetron, I just sent you a private message about this.

    Edited to add:

    I just read this thread all the way through. Probably should have done that before sending the private message.

    Now I've sent you three private messages.

    It's kinda funny, actually.
  16. spcglider

    spcglider Member

    Actually, the way to deal with this situation is to discuss the amount with them in a factual and up-front way.

    If they only want to spend $380.00 per puppet, then that's what they should get... a $380 puppet.

    I made a custom Blandings Turtle puppet for the Bell Museum of Natural History. They wanted to own the puppet AND the design. So I charged them $2500.00 for the whole package. I designed the puppet from the ground up, I built the puppet using professional materials, I supplied them with a performance for the video they were making, they owned the physical puppet itself, and I gave them the rights to use the character however they'd prefer.

    And at that I was probably undervaluing the piece.

    If they'd wanted to spend only $380, they'd have gotten a puppet made from an existing pattern out of sweatshirt fleece. No performance, no rights, no special extras (I airbrushed details on the puppet). And the only reason they'd be keeping the puppet is that it was made from materials I don't prefer.

    But you gotta remember NOT to under value yourself or your time or your talents. I know sometimes it's hard to look a client straight in the eye and tell them you're worth way the heck more than what they want to pay. I do it every day. But there are economics you really need to observe. Things that are standard in every industry... like marking up your materials. it somehow doesn't seem right, but it is standard in every industry to mark up the costs of your materials. If you're actually spending $80 on materials, you should be charging $160.00.

    Are you custom dying the fabrics? That is time. Time is money. You can't just charge them or the time you spend sewing. You'll be out of business in a month. Do you have to travel to get materials? Go to a store? That has got to be figured in to the money as well. That's time and gas. Gotta be in there. Otherwise you are literally giving those things away.

    Some people say "doesn't that come out of the hourly $ I charge?" The answer is NO. The money you charge for your hourly rate is the money YOU DESERVE for doing the work itself. if you want to roll your operations budget into your hourly rate, that's fine... but START with your base rate for the work and ADD the operations budget on top of that. NEVER give it away. NEVER.

    Oh, and a special note: There is no such thing as a "buddy deal". Never let anyone convince you that they are a pal and you should cut your rate for a pal. Why? Because as soon as you cut your rate for someone, THAT becomes your new rate FOREVER. Trust me on this. They will expect you to cut your rate for every other job that comes up. Don't believe me? Do it once and you'll find out how I speak the truth. I have clients in the ad biz that expect me to charge them rates I was charging back in 1998 because they're "buddies".

    When someone asks you to cut your rate for no particularly good reason, simply ask them how much they are cutting their rate for the job. that'll put a little perspective on it for them. I do that to greedy producer types all the time for ad work.

    -Gordon
  17. spcglider

    spcglider Member

    Arrrgh. stupid computer tricked me into posting twice.

    -Gordon
  18. Teenager's

    Teenager's Member

    Now I feel so guilty for making that Hyena puppet so cheaply.....I'm so sorry Puppetry Community.

    (It may sound like I'm mocking people, but I'm not I'm being sincere)
  19. ravagefrackle

    ravagefrackle New Member

    dont apploigive to much, your young and new to the machinations of the entertainment indusrty, heck, im still trying to muddle my way thru it all.

    but i think Gordon,and Pasha and myself, are simply trying to import someof our wisdom and expierence to evryone else,

    like evrything else its a dog eat dog industry , and i am happy to make sure that you newbies dont get screwed as much as we have in the past
  20. staceyrebecca

    staceyrebecca Member

    Gosh, I'm feeling like a fool for selling the 2 puppets I made (w/a 2 day deadline) to the ad agency for $250 total....Flat out, they get the puppets, they can re-use them as many times as they want for whatever they want. At least, that's what I assume. I mean, they kept the physical puppets. And I felt like I was over-charging them. I think the way I make puppets is a lot more simple than you guys, but still...I have set a standard.

    yar indeed.


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