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Maybe no one around here would know the answer to this, or maybe it varies wildly, but I'm curious to know whether or not it's typical for movie stars to be forbidden from resembling the character that they played in a movie, in a commercial (outside of commercials for the movie itself or agreed to specifically by the company that own/creates the movie).

Can Morgan Freeman come back, for example, as God in that white suit from Bruce Almighty and tell everyone that Coke is better than Pepsi?

Or can Leonardo DiCaprio, as Jack Dawson of Titanic, float by on a wooden plank, perhaps, claiming that cruises are done better via Carnival on the Caribbean?

  • Do you mean outside of officially licensed commercials for sponsored items? Because that happens all the time.... I mean, there's a commercial for a computer brand featuring Jim Parsons and I'm pretty sure he's being Sheldon in the commercial... though that's much less overt as that's partially just who he is. youtube.com/watch?v=OhE3vj4ffr4 – Catija Feb 20 '15 at 4:36
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    @Catija I don't mean things done through the company that owns the movie. – CuriousWebDeveloper Feb 20 '15 at 4:44
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    @Catija I'm talking about the actor / advertising company acting alone, years later. Like "Hey Leonardo, wanna run this scene for us as a Titanic look-alike joke in our commercial?" – CuriousWebDeveloper Feb 20 '15 at 4:50
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    I'm not so sure Jim Parsons isn't Sheldon all the time. Maybe he was typecast. Maybe there's no acting there. – wbogacz Feb 20 '15 at 13:52
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    @Catija: I don't think he would be wearing that suit if he were playing Sheldon in that ad. – ThePopMachine Feb 20 '15 at 16:18
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Outside of officially licensed appearances, it would be copyright/trademark infringement and illegal.

Movie studios own the characters in the films. The actors do not.

Unless the actors get specific permission from the studio to appear as their character, it's generally not allowed as someone will get sued over it.

Could Johnny Depp appear in a commercial as a generic pirate or as a generic version of Tonto?

Maybe... but it's iffy territory.

Could Chris Pratt show up in a commercial in his Starlord costume? Not without first getting clearance from Marvel/Disney.

Oh, and for fun, let me point out that it works the other way, too...

If you've ever watched any indie films, you may notice that nothing has brand logos... Crews spend a lot of time making sure that any identifiable branding/packaging is removed because they don't want to get sued for using the brand in the film without permission... not that it's necessarily illegal. Companies can get very protective of their brand image and, if they feel it is maligned, they are likely to get very litigious.

It's also why ET liked the relatively unfamiliar candy Reese's Pieces instead of the much more popular M&Ms... M&M/Mars refused to give Spielberg permission but Reese's was happy for the exposure and benefited greatly from it... and they didn't even pay for it!


There is an exception that applies to copyright under fair use... The most commonly found is the character in satire/parody... though this wouldn't be likely appear in a commercial, it is acceptable to use a copyrighted character to be used if it's clear that it's being done as a parody... the most easy example is when characters appear on shows like Saturday Night Live

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    Copyright is not the applicable law. Character likenesses are protected by Trademark law. – JamesRyan Feb 20 '15 at 10:53
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    @JamesRyan its possible for a character to be protected by both; see: ivanhoffman.com/characters.html, especially the court's findings in the Gaiman v McFarlane "Spawn" case... – KutuluMike Feb 20 '15 at 13:26
  • @MichaelEdenfield where copyright applies it is only to far more specific details than just a likeness. The example you link is not typical. eg. indiefilmlaw.wordpress.com/2014/07/19/… – JamesRyan Feb 20 '15 at 15:00
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    I don't believe that it is illegal to show a product in a movie. – David Baucum Feb 20 '15 at 21:36
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    @DavidBaucum I didn't ever say it was illegal. I said that people don't do it because they don't want to get sued. filmindependent.org/news-and-blog/… – Catija Feb 20 '15 at 21:57
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It's all about contracts, there is no hard and fast rule. It can also depend on where the advert is being aired.

For example: Harvey Keitel is currently playing Winston Wolf (from Pulp Fiction) in adverts for a big insurance company in the UK (and he announces himself by name as per the film, so it's not just implied).

  • -1 Can't downvote, but this question is clearly about what is most common, not what the rule is. And the fact that a certain company was able to pay to use a certain character in a certain advertisement means little to argue either way. – David Mulder Feb 22 '15 at 1:08
  • Thanks for the sentiment, at the point I answered the question was if a celebrity could play an existing character in an advert, it's been subsequently changed. – The Wandering Dev Manager Jul 22 '16 at 13:37
  • I am not sure what you're referring to, as the question was not changed (aside of tags) after your answer was posted. (All versions of the question repeatedly use 'typically' and 'typical') – David Mulder Jul 22 '16 at 17:24
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I have seen a commercial recently featuring Mr. T from The A team. I realize this is a series rather than a movie, but I guess it means that everything is possible.

I don't think it is freely possible, but why wouldn't the people holding the rights agree if it allows them to make some more money.


If you are thinking about initiatives that the rights owners do not agree to: Those are definitely not allowed. I recently heard that someone was not even allowed to use his real name in a show because he already used it in a different show, and the owners of that show held the rights.

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    Mr T is a person. The A Team character was BA Barracus. – Lightness Races in Orbit Feb 20 '15 at 11:26
  • @LightnessRacesinOrbit has it. – Shadur Feb 20 '15 at 12:03
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    I wonder about Mr T. He had that look before he played BA. In fact, his 'costume' as BA was simply what he wore to the studio. So, in effect, Mr. T was always BA and vice versa. – CGCampbell Jun 29 '15 at 2:27

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