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Do you want to set up a bar in New Zealand? If so, one of the best ways to succeed is by having a competitive advantage. This is an attribute that differentiates to give you an advantage over your competitors. One way to do this is by setting up a character inspired bar. This article will explain what a character inspired bar is and how to overcome legal hurdles concerning copyright. 

What Is a Character Inspired Bar?

A character inspired bar is a themed bar that makes a specific character or pop culture icon the centre of its operation. For example, you might have a bar based on the superhero Batman. While having a character inspired bar might give you a competitive edge, it could also land you in legal trouble if not done correctly. This is because there are intellectual property laws to consider.

Different Types of Intellectual Property

Trade Mark

A trade mark is an intellectual property that you can register with the New Zealand Intellectual Property Office. A trade mark can either be:

  • words;
  • logos;
  • shapes;
  • colours;
  • sounds;
  • smells;
  • or any combination of these.

A trade mark allows a business to distinguish itself from other brands, competitors or other entities. You can also sell a trade mark or assign it to another business if you do not use the trade mark anymore. You must also renew them every ten years with the payment of a renewal fee. 


Another type of intellectual property is copyright. A person can place copyright on an original work such as a movie, book or play. Unlike a trade mark, you do not need to register for copyright. Rather, it is automatically granted once the work is complete. However, people may still choose to use the © symbol to show that their work has copyright protection. 

Additionally, you can licence another person to use your copyrighted material for a fee. You are also able to take legal action against somebody who infringes on your copyright. Generally, copyrights only cover the expression of ideas rather than the information itself. You also cannot copyright small expressions such as headlines or names. 

Protecting Your Character Inspired Bar

When opening a character inspired bar, you should first determine if the character or theme has copyright protection or if another person has placed a trade mark over it. If it is copyrighted, you should be able to open the bar as long as you do not use any specific material such as pictures from a book. Instead, you should only be using the idea. For example, you can open up a Batman-themed cafe, but you should avoid putting up Batman graphic novel posters.

However, it is an entirely different scenario if the character you are using as your theme has a trade mark registered. A trade mark is much more strict than copyright. Hence, you will not be able to use the Batman likeness without opening yourself to legal trouble. You would have no problem starting a generic superhero-themed bar, but using Batman specifically could land you in trouble.

Getting Around Trade Marks

The only way you can get around trade marks is by seeking permission from the trade mark owner. Once you do this, the business that owns the trade mark may ask you to pay a licencing fee to use it. Depending on whether this fits within your budget, you may be able to afford this. As long as your bar is casting the character in a positive light, the trade mark owner is likely to be happy with you using their trade mark for a fee.

Importantly, using a trade mark without the trade mark owner’s permission opens you up to be sued for trade mark infringement. This could cause your business to go bankrupt.

Key Takeaways

Starting a business is no easy task as you will want to bring something to the table that makes it stand out from the crowd. This is especially the case if you are opening a bar. One thing that you can do is make your bar themed or inspired by a character. However, ensure that your chosen character is not trade marked. Otherwise, you risk penalties for trade mark infringement. 

For assistance with setting up a bar, contact LegalVision’s business lawyers on 0800 005 570 or fill out the form on this page.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I use copyrighted material any way I want?

No, you can only use the ideas or information from copyrighted material.

Does a trade mark owner have to licence their trade mark to me?

No, a trade mark owner can keep the trade mark for their exclusive use.

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