Morality of cosplay?

Alright so here’s the problem I’m grappling with. Is it wrong to cosplay due to the legality of the situation? I’m very bad with legal information and I can’t figure out if it’s technically illegal or not to cosplay on a small scale. What about to do paid commissions for cosplay costumes, on a small scale (i.e. person-to-person, not running a business or anything).
I know that businesses with licensed characters will not care about such small-scale costuming but I can’t decide if that has a real effect on the genuine morality of the situation? This character in question is animated (video game), if it changes anything, and the person who asked me to make it doesn’t expect an exact replica. In the fashion world, similar but not identical knockoff clothing is legal because it is officially considered “utility”…I am not, however, certain if the same applies to character outfits that represent more than mere clothing. I think it would, since the reason fashion, even high fashion and couture design, is considered utility is because it can be used for a practical purpose, warmth, coverage, ect. Character clothing is still clothing that keeps your warm and dry. So at a best guess, I personally would say it should be legal to make a recognizably similar, but definitely not identical outfit to represent, not copy the character. I do wonder if anybody more experienced in this area has a different opinion.

Your only moral obligation here is to follow the law.

If the law is confusing and unclear, then I say you should be asking someone with Knowledge of copyright law, not Catholics :slight_smile:

I’ve never really cosplayed much, but I’ve been interested in it for a long time and have done a lot of research on the matter. I’ve never seen other cosplayers talk about copyright infringement, and I’ve never put much thought into it. I think, considering cosplay is so popular and many companies (Marvel, for example) hold costume contests and events, you don’t need to worry about infringing copyright. If you still have concerns, however, I suggest taking your worries to a cosplay-centered forum, such as Best of luck to you!

I don’t think a company has ever enforced copyright against cosplay, so I wouldn’t worry about it; in fact, most companies support it because it brings attention to their characters.

what is cosplay?

The only thing non-Catholics will tell me on the matter is that nobody cares. I’ve heard people say that a company could bring a lawsuit if they felt like slamming one particular cosplayer above the millions of others, but the judge would almost certainly throw it out.

I don’t know if it makes a difference if the company doesn’t sell costumes, if the costumes are an exact replica, if money is exchanged, or if it’s on a private scale. All they will tell me is that nobody cares until you go commercial and start mass producing, which makes sense to me.

I decided to ask Catholics because only Catholics can tell me whether or not this vague information matters in relation to our moral obligation to follow the law.

it sounds illegal, like downloading movies and music without permission. that would make it immoral.

Making money off of it might technically be illegal, but I can’t imagine why dressing/acting would be.

I don’t think it’s illegal to dress like a character. If you’re making money off of it then it -might- be, but not just if you’re doing it for fun or because you’re a fan of the character. Like I said in my previous post, most companies support cosplay because it brings attention to their characters and shows. As long as the companies the law is intended to protect don’t care, I’d say you’re in the clear morally and legally.

Ask the 501st Legion - read the fine print at the bottom of their page: It’s the “Preferred” cosplay of Lucasfilm. So in other words, they aren’t going to sue people for dressing like Darth Vader, stormtroopers, etc. :smiley: (If you don’t want to be a bad guy or gal, there’s also a Rebel Legion Groups like these do charitable events and community events. It’s positive publicity for the franchise and fun for the participants, a win-win.

My cousin’s son who has cancer got to interact with some superhero cosplayers. It helped take his mind off all he was going through. :slight_smile: :heart:

Is your question:

  • Can I legally make and sell costumes based on a copyrighted character if I alter the costume to be distinctive from that worn by the character?

Or is it:

  • Can I legally make articles of clothing for someone knowing they will be using them to represent a copyrighted character?

In one question you’re representing something with the intention of presenting it as a copyrighted character. In the other, you’re providing a service to someone who wants an article of clothing to match something in a picture. In one you’re making money off a copyrighted character, in the other you’re assisting someone in constructing a costume for personal use. Not a lawyer, so I don’t know if it makes any difference.

Sounds like you need to either contact a lawyer or the company holding the copyright.

Again, not a lawyer, but as I understand it a company must actively uphold their copyright/trademark to continue to use it. That is, if they become aware of an infringement they must seek to enforce their copyright or it will cease to be valid. What that would mean to you, I have no idea and you need to talk to a lawyer or get the permission of the copyright holder.

ETA: Morality. If you’re simply helping someone by creating articles for a costume they intend for personal use and not profit, than I think you’re fine morally. I don’t see any difference between someone making their own costume for personal use like attending Comic-con, or getting someone like you to assist in making specific pieces of it beyond their skill to make themselves.

Contact the U.S. Copyright Office

If it is anime character owned and licensed by a foreign company then let them know. This would fall under “foreign rights.”

The other morality of cosplay is decency. Just don’t dress indecently.


Costume Play. Dressing up as a character from a book/movie/comic etc. Think folks attending Comic-Con as “The Joker” or “Ironman” or a character from “Full Metal Alchemist” or “Archer”.

A lot of anime/sci fi/ cartoon companies and producers support cosplay. Consider the strong presence these companies have at comicon’s and other events that are heavily cosplay driven. Cosplay is a subculture within a subculture. Heck many of these companies sell all of part of certain costumes that cosplayers use. The main character from Frozen comes to mind as well as Maleficent. I wouldn’t worry too much about this.

But I expect that Disney is getting a percentage of the profits from those companies selling costumes of Disney characters. Although I don’t think they’d sue someone making their own costume for personal use.

Actually, if any company was going to, it’d be Disney… I mean, this is the company that has sued schools for showing Disney movies in their classrooms without permission…

Precisely. It’s like doujin circles (a.k.a. fan-made comics). Comiket’s a super-popular place to market and sell these yet there’s hardly any legal furor over it. The biggest reason is really free advertising. Even if you make money off it, everyone knows that it’s a fan creation, a tribute to an original piece. Thus, everyone ends up going back to the original piece with hardly a penny being spent by the creator.

And if you’re going to measure all that up against Catholic morality… where exactly does it fall under as a sin? Theft? Dishonesty? You’re making money off of making something else more popular. I don’t see how that fits the description. :shrug:

It’s things like this that kill me about Catholic morality. How am I supposed to know what to do? How am i supposed to know how this particular company feels about cosplay? How am I supposed to figure out the fine line between following the law righteously and following the law ridiculously? Nobody’s getting sued for a wearing a costume at a con, I can say that with absolute certainty: cons are massively public, well-known events attending by thousands of cosplayers trying to one-up each other in accuracy. No company is dumb enough to go after cosplayers like that, one can scarcely imagine the public backlash they would receive. At the same time, is it legal? Is it beneficial? Are we helping the company by cosplaying their characters, or are we just hurting it in a large enough group that they can’t possibly make a move about it? Maybe that’s how the legal system works, how democracy should work, and we should respect that - we are a government of the people, and clearly the people have made a decision. Right? Or am I getting too technical?
If I were to answer these questions, I would need an in-depth knowledge of the economics of the company, the official opinions of the company, the merchandise that is sold privately versus the merchandise that could be sold commercially, whether or not the company would sell more costumes or sell costumes at all if not for private cosplay, how likely it is that they would gain customers from cosplay based on how many people actually cosplay the characters, how visible they are, the effect of cosplay on the average person’s opinion…ect. I am literally the worst researcher in the world, the least politically informed, the most economically clueless, I have absolutely no way of answering a single one of these questions. What do I do? Play it safe and totally back out of helping with the costume that I promised to make? Claim ignorance on the issue and move forward for the sake of helping out a friend, crossing my fingers and hoping I’m doing something good or at least morally neutral? I have literally no idea. No clue. Even if I asked a priest or two or ten about this, I’d receive their personal opinions, because I very highly doubt that anybody can really answer these questions. If nobody can answer them, how on earth am I supposed to make a decision?

I think you are overthinking it. Sounds like there is a strong cultural precedent that this sort of thing is okay. So just go ahead and do it. If you do a couple of jobs and you still can’t stop feeling bad then listen to your conscience and stop doing it. Catholicism isn’t there to dictate your life. You need to make the decision yourself. If your conscience and reason and knowledge available to you aren’t enough to tell you the difference between right and wrong, you can only act in good faith. Even if you make a mistake on this one (either way), as long as you learn from it, some consciousness will form from it, and maybe that will help you when a more serious moral issue arises. I think the last thing you should do is sit tormenting yourself on the fence.

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