Dear Answer Man: Do the various vendors at SocialICE have to obtain permission to use names and images of copyrighted materials, i.e., Star Wars, The Simpsons? Does Rochester ensure copyright protections of such materials? -- Questioner of Copyright Infringement
Dear Questioner: I’m glad you asked. After all, what goes hand-in-hand with a winter festival better than a question about the ice-cold realities of litigation over copyright infringement? You might love Winnie the Pooh, but Winnie the Pooh’s attorney is far less warm and cuddly.
So, before you get to work chiseling your sculpture, you may want to consider bringing a blow torch so you can melt the evidence in a hurry in the event someone from corporate Hollywood decides to swing by for a cup of hot chocolate.
For their part, festival officials believe they are in the clear. Katie Adelman, director of content and communications for the Rochester Downtown Alliance, said they expect all their vendors to comply with federal and local requirements during events.
That being said, she explained that, based on information she was given, the sculptures at SocialICE do not represent intellectual property infringement since they’re not actual representations of the characters they’re modeled after. They are, after all, made of ice.
Artisans have been flocking to downtown Rochester for SocialICE for about a dozen years. This year, there were around 67,000 visitors at the event. As far as my minions in the newsroom could tell, there haven’t been any lawsuits thus far.
Although the name on my business card says "Answer Man" and not "Legal Man," I wouldn’t expect to see too many lawsuits flooding the Minnesota Court System. After all, the ice would probably melt before the ink on the paperwork could dry.
Tom Cotter is a law professor at the University of Minnesota who has taught on the subject of copyright. He said something of that nature could theoretically be considered a copyright issue. However, he also said there could potentially be arguments in favor of the artisans, such as if they used a fair-use defense or claimed the sculptures transformed the original in some way, shape or form.
"It would also be a question of how closely the copy resembles the original -- is it really substantially similar to the original?" Cotter asked.
"It might be one of those situations where it would technically be copyright infringement, but I would be somewhat surprised, given the sort of ephemeral nature of ice, (if someone) would be really concerned about that."
Regardless, it is a fascinating question. You could even use it as a conversation starter with one of those 67,000 visitors at next year’s SocialICE. It could be a way to… well… break the ice, if you will.