Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Cartoon Definition:

A normally humourous and pictorial parody which by caricature, analogy or ludicrous juxtaposition sharpens the public view of a contemporary event, political or social trend.

Related Terms: Libel, Fair Comment

In Ross v Beutel, Chief Justice Daigle of the New Brunswick considered the term cartoon in a legal context, to wit: a defamation case in which the defendant had suggested that the words attributed to him were delivered in cartoon format and therefore fair comment. While both the trial court and the New Brunswick Court of Appeal found defamation and therefore against the defendant, Justice Daigle did use the opportunity to adopt these words to define a cartoon:

"(A) pictorial parody which by devices of caricature, analogy and ludicrous juxtaposition sharpens the public view of a contemporary event, folkway, or political (or) social trend. It is normally humorous but may be positively savage."

In State of Washington v RJ Reynolds Tobacco, Justice Ellington of the Court of Appeals of Washington had before him an image that the Respondent tobacco company denied was a cartoon as the use of cartoons in the promotional material for tobacco product was probited by a contractaul agreement between tobacco selers and the State (so as to prevent advertisements that would attract underage readers of adult media).

One of the images, according to the Court's desciption:

"On each page of the ad, the lower third is a green field. The first page depicts the head and shoulders of a woman with a retro hairstyle. She is surrounded by flowers and a floating gramophone with a butterfly in its fluted speaker and a bird sitting next to the wind-up arm. A second bird perches on the extended forefinger of a disembodied hand emerging from beneath the turntable. The Camel logo is above...."

Re cartoon, the Court noted this definition of a cartoon which was in the contract at issue before the Court:

"Cartoon means any drawing or other depiction of an object, person, animal, creature or any similar caricature that satisfies any of the following criteria: the use of comically exaggerated features; the attribution of human characteristics to animals, plants or other objects, or the similar use of anthropomorphic technique; or the attribution of unnatural or extrahuman abilities, such as imperviousness to pain or injury, X-ray vision, tunneling at very high speeds or transformation."

Justice Ellington went on at paras ¶20 and ¶21 to find that the images were cartoons:

"The (contractual) definition does not confine its examples to superhuman powers. Cartoons include any depiction attributing unnatural abilities such as transformation....

"We agree with the trial court that the Camel Farm photo collage does not resemble traditional Disney cartoons, but this is not germane. Disney-type cartoons were not the only target of the prohibition. Nor is it germane that the effect is thought-provoking rather than humorous."


  • Ross v Beutel, 2001 NBCA 62
  • State v. RJ Reynolds Tobacco Co., 211 P. 3d 448 (2009)

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