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In The LEGO Batman movie there are a lot of depictions of characters from a number of franchises, some of them quite famous and costly. I thought you cannot use someone else's character in your own work without the author's permission and (usually) paying for it.

Considering this how did the movie go about using them and not ending up billions of dollars in debt?

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    I don't know but I imagine the numerous deals for product lines based on existing series included the ability to use "legofied" in other media (e.g. games, dvd movies etc), possibly all that's needed was sign off, and given the potential for big money in additional royalties from a successful follow up to the successful "Lego Movie" I'd say it was a no-brainer. – The Wandering Dev Manager Apr 29 '17 at 14:35
  • So if you have a Lego set for Batman, with a harry potter character, JK Rowling (or whoever has the copyright) will get a slice of the royalties. It's like when Madonna used 4 words from "Sepher in the sky" in Ray of Light, the guy got about half a million dollars for it. – The Wandering Dev Manager Apr 29 '17 at 14:36
  • Don't forget, Lego is the world's biggest toy maker - they've got the money. – disassociated Apr 29 '17 at 14:49
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    In addition to Tetsujin's excellent point about Lego having plenty of money to spend, the amount that each IP requests for using their character(s) is likely going to scale with the number of character(s) and the amount of time each is on screen in the movie. A 5 second cameo isn't going to cost as much as Batman himself. – Steve-O Apr 29 '17 at 16:07
  • @DavidRicherby - no that was part of the deal I mentioned initially, royalties would be part of the initial deal. The main point was to show that rather than paying for use as the OP thought, it was actually more to the profit of the owner by being included. – The Wandering Dev Manager Apr 30 '17 at 13:54
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I thought you cannot use someone else's character in your own work without the author's permission and (usually) paying for it.

Considering this how did the movie go about using them and not ending up billions of dollars in debt?

They asked permission!

Entertainment Weekly interviewed the director, Chris McKay who explained

EW: Was licensing a nightmare?

McKay: "You need an army of lawyers and producers who are willing to run around and do all the hard work of finding out all the rights-holders. Fortunately, Warner Bros. made a lot of those movies, but for others, we had go to out and get them. I wanted characters from all over the world. I wanted Daleks. I wanted stuff that has a history and is time-tested, like the Wicked Witch. And I hope people love Gremlins as much as I do. And Sauron. But even for the actual Batman villains, even though that’s all [property of] DC, someone still has to go out and find it, you know, the guy that wrote Gentleman Ghost into the issue where he first shows up. I definitely kept a lot of coordinators, producers, and lawyers busy on this movie. I’m sure I drove people crazy."

Now there may have been a financial component but we're unlikely to find details of those anywhere.

In some case, they actually had involvement from the creators/rights-holders like JK Rowling.

McKay: "We used Dumbledore in The LEGO Movie as a quick one-off joke, but Voldemort obviously plays a bigger role in this movie, and J.K. Rowling obviously cares very deeply about these characters, so we absolutely had to run stuff by her."

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