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I was watching a movie and, in multiple scenes, the characters were using a set of coffee cups that I haven't seen before. I realized my Main Character is the type of person who would have and use such a set.

Is it acceptable to use those exact ones in my novel? They would serve to highlight the taste and attachment she has in things that she owns.

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If the set of coffee cups is something you can buy or find (outside of the movie company's website), then, yes, no problem. Use them.

If the set is something not currently or formerly made but is something a dishware company could easily do in the future (for example, an unusual color or pattern or style of handle), use them.

If the set is unique to that movie (or franchise) and something that anyone familiar with the movie might identify, then proceed with caution, especially if they reflect a type of magic that might be used in the movie or if the movie focuses on their having been commissioned.

The details matter here. You're probably okay in most circumstances, but this is not something we can give a generic yea or nay to. It's hard to imagine a cup being unique enough to matter legally, but then I think about Chip in the animated Beauty and the Beast. "Don't piss off Disney" is usually excellent advice for a writer.

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I don't see why not. If they were objects unique to a particular movie setting, like the lightsabers in Star Wars, you'd raise a few eyebrows at least, but these are literally just cups. You may as well have seen them in a thrift store. I highly doubt that anyone is going to read your story and recognise that you took those specific cups from a movie, and even if they do, I don't think you'd run into any issues with copyright or trademarks.

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  • plenty of fiction uses laser swords. In fact i am going to be Star Wars did not invent them. Just don't call them lightsabers(tm) – Andrey Mar 25 '19 at 18:35
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I am not a lawyer, so all of this is a layman opinion. If the design on the cups is something done by the set designers or artists employed by the movie, then they own the copyright on that design, as part of the copyright on their movie. You can't use it. An example of this might be the designs on the swords and weapons in the movies based on The Lord of the Rings.

If it appears elsewhere, if you can find it sold by somebody or a picture of it before the movie project was begun, they cannot claim copyright on that element.

If there is dialogue in the movie about the design, they own the copyright on that; you cannot steal their words.

Whether you have violated copyright "enough" is a question for the courts, there are no hard and fast rules and the question is if your intent was to profit off of their intellectual property, and it is often a human judgment (by a judge or a jury) as to whether you intentionally appropriated their intellectual property. I think your question and conversation here prove that you did.

If you insist upon the design that you saw, you should consult a lawyer. The easier route, perhaps, is to use your imagination and come up with your own original design, for which YOU will own the copyright.

I do not recommend appropriating the work of others, ever. Imagination is the job of the author. When in doubt, create your own.

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  • It was a coffee set that, when I looked it up, was made from a material called Jadite. It had a vintage that I was looking for. I think I can buy those particular ones from amazon. – iamtowrite Mar 26 '19 at 15:09
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    @imatowrite If you can buy them on Amazon, and the seller shows no copyright or trademark on the items, I'd guess there is no problem. It doesn't make a difference where you first saw them; that doesn't give the movie makers any rights. Describe what you see on Amazon. Take a screenshot and save it as documentation if you want to be certain. – Amadeus-Reinstate-Monica Mar 26 '19 at 16:35

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