Originally Posted by TrombonePrincess
For example, say I wanted to start a manga cafe, selling cookies and cakes shaped to look exactly like certain characters. Japan has these cafes, and they pay their workers to dress up as licensed characters. Would this be allowable? Could you use the names of these characters on the menu, or would you need to get permissions to use any names and likenesses in order to continually make a profit off of their creativity? Here in America, those types of laws are very strict concerning copyright and characters.
If you're starting a business, you MIGHT be able to get away with parodies, but using the names and likenesses of characters that you don't hold the copyright for is a big no-no here in the States.
If you're serious about this, speak to a professional copyright or trademark lawyer for advice. Educate yourself, and make your decisions about this based on facts and real US law, not on advice from random folks on the internet - most of us have no clue what we're talking about, and a LOT of people will argue convincingly that illegal things are okay because they think they should be, or try to tell you about loopholes they may or may not know anything about. None of this will help you if you land in court. A lawyer will. Again, if you're serious about starting a business, get some real, professional input.