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I am creating an action/adventure comic strip in the vein of Indiana Jones. Currently the character’s name is Panda Jack. The strip will have a title like “Panda Jack and the… fill-in-the-blank”. I am just trying to find out how I can know if that character name is taken. If it is, does that mean I can’t have a character with the same name?

For example, I created a superhero back in 1981-1982 while in high school called Mega-Man. Never published it. He appeared in an ad in the school newspaper. I still have that character, albeit in a totally different costume from then. I don't know if I could use that name now either because of Capcom's Mega Man.

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Names cannot be copyrighted, but they can be trademarked.

You could have a character named Clark Kent in your story. That wouldn't be a problem. The more your Clark resembles Superman's alter-ego the strong the case for infringement.

As an example, if both were from the same state, not a problem. The similarities are insufficient to lead a reasonable reader to think you are talking about the son of Krypton. If both are from Smallville in the same state, and their mothers were named Martha, the similarities are increasing. Your Clark is an exotic dancer, then the similarities decrease.

The line between infringement and creativity is solely in the hands of a jury, if the matter was ever brought to court. There’s no precise declaration showing the degree of similarity making the work a derivative or its own original work.

But just having the same name is insufficient to make a work derivative because names can't be copyrighted.

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  • Keep in mind that Superman and Batman were not always owned by D.C. (Called Timely at the time that both characters were acquired), and especially in D.C./Timely's case, many were held by the original creator until WWII saw many writers/artist go off to war and sold the IP rights to their publisher. It would not be possible for the original Superman creators to sue Batman creators because both characters had mothers named Martha (not sure on Batman's side of the story, but I'm pretty sure Martha Kent was called Ma Kent and wasn't named until the silver age at least.).
    – hszmv
    Commented Sep 18, 2023 at 11:46
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This is an interesting case because your Mega Man (who debuted in 1981-2) pre-dates Capcom's Mega Man (who debuted in 1987). IANAL, but I think that as long as you can prove that in court if necessary, and that a reasonable person could not mistake your Mega Man for Capcom's Mega Man, then it should be okay. I would seek legal advice just to be absolutely certain, though.

As for the more general question of how to know whether a character name is already taken, I can only recommend doing a Google search. In the case of Panda Jack, there is already a book named "Panda Jack and the Bamboo Stalk", but it appears to be a sort of "beginners' book" for people learning Chinese, and doesn't bear any resemblance to your own Panda Jack idea. Again, I would recommend seeking professional legal advice as to whether you'd be okay.

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  • I’m such a dweeb. What type of legal advice? A copyright attorney? Thanks. Commented Aug 18, 2023 at 20:30
  • Trade mark law doesn't necessarily depend on first use: some jurisdictions say whoever is first to file has the rights. Although the OP talks about copyright, other types of IP are more relevant.
    – Stuart F
    Commented Sep 19, 2023 at 15:10

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