H everyone, I'm from Canada, not the U.S. but I have a novella I'm seeking to publish and e-publish with the appearance of a group of third-party characters in it, the Constructicons from The Transformers (specifically the 1980s cartoon, not the recent stuff). It's a small appearance--amounts to no more than two paragraphs and a snippet of dialog in a 100-page story. There is no defamation of character here and I'm not making fun of anyone. It's more a walk-on role like what you would typically see in Family Guy (it brings to mind the episode where Optimus Prime is Jewish). Can I get in legal hot water for this, or am I safe? If I'm not safe, what would make the difference between something like my book and any episode of Family Guy or similar cartoon that deals with cameo appearances like this?
I can e-mail the chapter in question and highlight the snippet if anyone needs.
At the end is provided for your benefit a link to trademark law in Canada that you can read through, but I can provide a couple of answers to your questions despite the fact that there are differences in trademark laws between Canada and the US that need to be considered.
Shows like Family Guy
and The Simpsons
will license rights to use rights-protected material (including publicity rights of famous people), or they will parody what is rights-protected (and parody in the US can be a fair use if done properly - and these shows tend to parody properly), or they have the famous people they parody appear on their shows as parodies of themselves, or they make use of their huge legal teams and huge amounts of money to defend any lawsuit that anyone chooses to file against them.
You would want any manuscript you write that uses rights-protected material in its content, whether the material is protected under copyright laws or trademark laws or publicity laws, personally reviewed by a publishing law professional in your area prior to publication - this best to reduce your risks of a lawsuit. Nothing you do can eliminate the risk of a lawsuit entirely, except to not use material belonging to others.
Here is the link to Canada's Guide to Trademarks: http://www.ic.gc.ca/eic/site/cipointernet-internetopic.nsf/eng/h_wr02360.html
Good luck with your novel.