Are “Digital Actors” Protected By Copyright?

A com­pany called Digi­con Media, LLC has issued a press release, claim­ing that it has obtained a copy­right reg­is­tra­tion for the “dig­i­tal per­sona” of a “vir­tual Mar­i­lyn Mon­roe.”  Digi­con appears to be claim­ing that the reg­is­tra­tion broadly cov­ers the exclu­sive right to a dig­i­tal rep­re­sen­ta­tion of Mar­i­lyn Monroe’s per­sona or performance.

It seems to me that Digi­con is grossly over­stat­ing its rights (at least its rights under copy­right law).  Last time I checked, nei­ther “dig­i­tal actors” nor “dig­i­tal per­sonas” were classes of works pro­tected by copy­right.  Indeed, the reg­is­tra­tion cited by Digi­con is a VA reg­is­tra­tion, mak­ing it likely that the reg­is­tra­tion cov­ers a par­tic­u­lar dig­i­tal ani­ma­tion as an audio­vi­sual work.  If so, the reg­is­tered copy­right (as opposed to any poten­tial right of pub­lic­ity issues) would not pre­vent oth­ers from cre­at­ing their own dig­i­tal ani­ma­tion fea­tur­ing a vir­tual Mar­i­lyn Mon­roe, so long as the sec­ond ani­ma­tion was not sub­stan­tially sim­i­lar to Digicon’s ani­ma­tion (i.e., dif­fer­ent cloth­ing, move­ment, dia­logue, etc.).

There are some other inter­est­ing points about the reg­is­tra­tion.  First, the reg­is­tra­tion claimant is not Digi­con, but rather is an indi­vid­ual by the name of Peter F. Paul.  Mr. Paul is an inter­est­ing char­ac­ter in his own right, with a col­or­ful per­sonal back­ground that includes jail time and sev­eral unsuc­cess­ful bids to wrest the rights to sev­eral Mar­vel Comics char­ac­ters away from Mar­vel and Stan Lee.  Also of inter­est, the reg­is­tra­tion record notes that Copy­right Office cor­re­spon­dence is part of the record.  I would imag­ine that the issues raised in that cor­re­spon­dence are very inter­est­ing, indeed!

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