Guest Blog – Puppet Rights Issue

Ventriloquist Tom Crowl wrote to me asking if I could help him out by letting the audience of Ventriloquist Central know of a performance concern he is encountering. So instead of answering him directly I decided to post his question to me here on my blog as a guest.


I’m hoping you will find this an interesting topic to post on Ventriloquist Central.

I’ve decided to create a souvenir video DVD to sell following shows. Because I knew Jeff Dunham had rebuilt characters to avoid issues, I thought I should probably obtain permission from the puppet makers before doing anything. I figured at my level – I’d get a – “You bought it, you can use it, give us a credit and good luck!” answer.

I contacted the puppet makers of the characters I wanted to use and they all came back with a go-ahead, except for one. That one replied with a media rights usage fee. I was surprised to say the least. While it wasn’t that much, I still decided I would pass and drop the puppet out of my show, advertising and web site. Before I made a hasty decision, I wanted to see how others felt.

I started a discussion at the Magic cafe:

I’ve been surprised by the response. Performers all naturally felt we should have unlimited performance rights. I contacted the maker of every figure I own to get their opinion – everyone else said go ahead. I’ve heard from makers I’ve never purchased from and they gave me their opinion on performance rights. Clinton even posted a fairly strong argument at his blog in favor of performer rights. So now this one company stands alone.

I’m not sure that most people even consider rights when purchasing a puppet or figure. I feel this is an important and interesting topic to discuss. I’d appreciate your help calling attention to the matter.


Tom Crowl
Comedy Ventriloquist Show – “We” Make people laugh!


Lets give Tom some good feedback on this very important subject!!!



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13 Responses to Guest Blog – Puppet Rights Issue

  1. BILL NELSON says:

    A ventriloquist figure is a tool and is created and sold as such. No figuremaker has the right to dictate how that tool is used.

  2. Lee Dean says:

    Frank Marshall would have been very wealthy had he reserved rights in two or three figures, but he did not. If the figure maker’s contract of sale has strings attached to limit use of the figure, then use is affected, but if there are no strings attached, then sale of the figure gives unlimited right of use. Absent limiting language, there is no limitation, except for a copyrighted Rickie Tik situation. My guess is that if Marshall did not reserve exclusive Tik image rights, then buyer has co-extensive right of use of the Tik image with Marshall Estate, assuming copyright renewed a few years ago as required, and if did not then common domain property.

  3. Lee Dean says:

    Sale of figure gives unlimited right of use, absent strings attached to limit right of use. Marshall would have been very wealthy man had he reserved rights in two or three figures, but did not, except Rickie Tik situation of copyrighted image, but buyer would have co-extensive right of use unless seller reserved exclusive image rights on all other than show bills, etc.

  4. David Lynn says:

    What a crock of a company. That is of course if there is no written contract or standard practice of residual ownership. Bill Nelson sums it up nicely. A Puppet is a TOOL (a goods). It is not some intelectual property (That is the performers property- his act) I can understand if I copied the image of a puppet, making another and purported it to be my own, I MAY have some copyright issues.

    I can understand to some extent the manufacturer trying to build in a royalty income to his creation, but as a marketing technique in this industry it would be suicidal to do so since the general marketers do not support such action. Should they solidaritise as a group and try to force the issue, good luck to them. 1 to enforce such rights would be costly and honestly I dont think most manufacturers could be interested in setting such a scheme up in the first place.

    I am an Australian vent and this sort of thing goes against what I consider to be our Aussie culture and for that matter most Vents across the globe.

    I’m considering processes at the moment to manufacture vent dolls myself at the moment and this concept would be the furtherest, No it just wouldnt enter my mind. I plan to make an excellent product and thats the end of it. I will support the product in its warranty period and give approritate support in a maintenance role after warranty. This is just Natural stuff for me. Now should I become famous for say my wally wombat character in my own right as a performer, then this particular character I may trademark and licence out (if it is really all that good) AND you the customer would be fully appraised in my advertisement of any royalty/licencing fees that come with the product.

    Blimey I have prattelled on here. I dont normally get into blogs but this question really gets my goat. Hey how about a licence fee for that quote…… ‘dooohhhh’

  5. Doug Higley says:

    Might I emphasize Tom’s link above to thread on this subject. There are the many ramifications that have been discussed as well as the reply from the prominent maker in the equation.
    It is a healthy, lively go around and vents can be proud of the participation and conduct6 of all those contributing…it has allowed for a great deal of solid information to be revealed and an important topic brought to light.

    Personally I’m having a new original and exclusive character being made and it allowed me to address the issue with the maker and get assurances of full rights being given. At ‘the Cafe’ there is even a gen-u-ine Lawyer in the mix offering some legal mumbo jumbo.

    Here is the link again
    and thank you Dan for the space and attention.
    Doug Higley

  6. Tom Crowl says:

    I appreciate opinions – but in no way want to attack any company or person. They have a right to charge a fee if that is how they do business. By raising awareness of the issue – hopefully others, like Doug, will know to ask BEFORE purchasing a figure. In my case, I did not. At that point buyers can decide if they want to pay for additional rights – or deal with someone who provides them in the purchase price.

  7. Wanlu says:

    I will comment both as a puppet seller and a buyer.

    As a seller, I would be very happy to see our creations used in DVD’s and the likes without extra fees to the one who bought the puppet. That’s FREE ADVERTISING :)

    As a buyer, it will be very nice to know that I can use the puppets I bought in any possible way I can specially if the project will generate funds for me.

    That’s basically what my stand is as far as this topic is concerned.

    Copyrights must be used to protect a design by a puppet maker to prevent others from copying a design and sell it as his own…

    The issue of Media Rights must be settled on a case to case basis…


    Custom Made Puppets

  8. Keith Singleton says:

    Hi gang,

    If there was no added fee for mass distribution and profits from a dvd, Ax’s characters would get too heavily exposed in media, affecting and cheapening a lot of great acts that use them. There is absolute value in being unique. That is what you are paying for – the uniqueness of getting to make some big bucks off Ax’s characters. That uniqueness wears off when they are in cheap amateur videos all over the place; ones that don’t really deserve to make a profit.

    Bill says dummies are a tool and makes it clear that it is not an issue with him. That is fine. He wants to sell his figures.

    I, however, think of the best of figures as original works of art that are the prime focus of attention in a vent act. If I were to spend a lot of money on a highly produced video and artwork, real quality lighting, sound, set, etc., then why not do the right thing and pay a bit more for what is basically the star of your show? If I spend a lot of dough to produce a video, I want to know that these characters are not pedestrian; that they are special. Yet to a beginner vent, one is as good as another, and that is sooo wrong.

    It is crucial to have just the right figure for your show. To allow something like a media fee scare one away from the best choice for their act shows a lack of seriousness about the art. That just devalues the art.

    – Keith Singleton

  9. Tom Crowl says:

    Keith –
    Unique? I would think Bill’s figures are extremely unique works of art – they are one of a kind and certainly not mass produced, molded creations available to every birthday party act. If he grants rights with the purchase of his figures – then the media rights fee should be considered as a part of the purchase price, even if it isn’t listed as such.

    If so, then your argument that not wanting to pay a media rights fee shows a lack of seriousness about the art, is an invalid one. Devalues the art? That is a pretty harsh statement. Unfortunately not everyone has your experience in the business. By raising awareness of this issue, buyers would know to ask about media rights BEFORE the purchase. Not be surprised by them afterward. That is simple education of an issue. How does this devalue the art?

    I respect your opinion that a company has the right to charge a fee. I do not see that it matters if it is an added fee as long as it is openly discussed prior to sale. Unfortunately there have been multiple examples of it not being known.

    Finally, why bring up only Axtell? There must be other puppet makers out there who charge an after sale media rights fee. Lets keep this about the issue – not specific companies.

  10. Ax says:

    Thanks for a great discussion. There is good opinions coming in from all points of view. Thanks! Please know that what matters to me most is the voice of the customers that we have served for 25 years. Those of you who have used Axtell puppets show after show! All over the world in over 60 countries….in schools, in churches, in comedy clubs, in Vegas, on Broadway, on TV and on the web. Come to our website tomorrow!

    : )

    Steve Axtell

  11. MarionetteMarauder says:

    I personally hold to the original art of marionette work not the watered down corporate takeover called “puppetry” so I don’t use axtell puppets, but he OF COURSE has the right to charge for media rights and any manufacturer does. Whether you like it or not is a different discussion. It is also tied to INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY. Glad to see people talking and sharing ideas. Thanks for letting me, and hopefully you guys will come back to the “art” side. Strings bring the benjamins in this day and age

  12. Ax says:

    We are happy to announce the Axtell Expressions new and improved free media rights policy.

    Thank you to all those who offered feedback, suggestions and encouragement. We appreciate our customers!

    Happy venting!

    Steve Axtell

  13. LeeDean says:

    It is my opinion that unless a seller has a copyright, patent, trademark, service mark, or trade secret agreement, seller has no intellectual property right. Even inclusion of “all rights reserved” means nothing and is void against public policy absent compliance with federal law co-extensive with enumerated property rights perfected. I correct previous replies to state: “Sale of figure gives unlimited right of use, absent strings attached to limit right of use, but only if plenary federal law complied with. Marshall would have been very wealthy man had he reserved rights in two or three figures, but did not, except Rickie Tik situation of copyrighted image, but buyer would have co-extensive right of use unless seller reserved exclusive image rights on all other than show bills, etc. not for sale as such.”

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