NYPD Asks Disney, Marvel To Abuse IP Law To Help Rid Times Square Of Spiderman, Mickey Mouse

from the government-ordained-trolling dept

For years, New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani and the NYPD waged a small-scale war in Times Square to turn it into a family-friendly tourist attraction on par with Las Vegas. It succeeded… mostly. Porn shops were replaced with toy stores and chain restaurants.

The war continues, even after this overhaul. Anywhere tourists gather en masse will draw the attention of less-desirable city residents. Panhandlers and street performers continue to converge on Times Square, hoping to earn a few bucks from out-of-towners. Much to Bill Bratton and the NYPD’s chagrin, Times Square continues to draw a disproportionate amount of New York City’s boobs. And topless women.

[A]t midday Thursday, there were 38 costumed panhandlers, five topless ladies and an artist who paints people’s naked bodies in full view in Times Square…

The city is trying to figure out how to keep these topless women out of an area where tourists can also witness the spectacle that is the nationally-infamous Naked Cowboy. Nothing seems to be working especially well and any efforts targeting female toplessness specifically will obviously (and correctly) be hailed as sexist (and a possible violation of the First Amendment).

The other element it wishes to banish is a direct result of the city’s decision to turn Times Square into Disneyland Lite: costumed street performers. Many dress as Disney/comic book characters and make money by charging tourists for photos with them. Some of these performers are known to become aggressive when photos are taken without “permission.” (Read: in exchange for $$$) Others are known to commit more heinous acts.

There’s been a series of incidents and arrests since then, including accusations of groping by Cookie Monster, and also Woody from “Toy Story.”

Spider Man was arrested in 2014 for allegedly demanding tips in an aggressive manner. Earlier this year, a Youtube video went viral of another Spider Man locked in a brawl with a heckler right in front of Toys R Us.

So, New York is still New York even if Times Square isn’t really Times Square anymore.

Police commissioner Bratton wants to add more officers… to enforce not much of anything, apparently.

Bratton said the unit was in the works for some time but was fast-tracked after the media began focusing on the desnudas and how their kind of panhandling can be “easily spread to other parts of the city.”

That said, Bratton added, “there’s only about one crime reported every day” in Times Square.

This new unit will patrol Times Square and attack “quality of life” issues… like painted women. Or intellectual property infringement.

The city’s top cop said Thursday they got the cold shoulder from Disney and Marvel when they tried to enlist them in the fight against the costumed characters preying on tourists in Times Square.

The NYPD specifically asked the companies if they wanted to charge the hustlers who wear Mickey Mouse, Spider-Man and other well-known costumes with copyright infringement.

Look! It’s IP law abuse to the rescue, a favorite tactic of this IP-abusing city government.

First off, these costumed performers would more likely fall under trademark infringement than copyright infringement. The characters are covered under trademark law. Creative works using these characters are what’s covered by copyright. But that distinction doesn’t matter to these blustering officials. They’re only concerned with enlisting the public to fight their battles for them. Any differences between copyright and trademark enforcement can be sorted out by Disney, Marvel, et al.

Fortunately, the companies seem less willing to abuse IP law to help out Bratton and the NYPD. Disney’s lack of interest in filing lawsuits isn’t altruistic, however. It won’t participate with Bratton’s plan because it doesn’t know who these performers are. The amount of time and money spent to discover this would easily outweigh any compensation gained.

Disney — being Disney — prefers to have legislation written on its behalf.

The bill — which would require the horde of Spider-Men, Mickeys and Minnies and other costumed panhandlers to undergo background checks and carry IDs — was introduced back in September by Councilman Andy King (D-Bronx).


“We have been for years working with previous and current administrations as well as the City Council trying to get legislation passed that would require registration and identification of these costumed characters,” said Disney spokeswoman Zenia Mucha.

This would solve Disney’s (and Marvel’s) “problem” without either corporation having to look like an IP thug. But the legislation isn’t going anywhere and Bratton wants his Time Square free of Mickeys and Spidermen now. So, he’s asking these companies to file baseless and pointless lawsuits almost solely on behalf of Bratton and his cleanup crusade.

The city’s top cop is also willing to let Disney, Marvel, etc. work for free.

“They want no part of it,” Police Commissioner Bill Bratton said on the John Gambling radio show. “We’ve encouraged Walt Disney, ‘Put your characters out on Broadway free of charge so people don’t have to worry about their kids being groped,’” he said. “We said to them, effectively, ‘Since you control the rights of them, put them out in front of the Disney Theater.’ They want no part of it.”

Disney and Bratton may not see eye-to-eye on the specifics of the solution, but they do agree on one aspect: someone else should do all the work.

The regulatory angle (licensing performers) Disney prefers puts the city and its police force to work for the companies. Bratton’s suggestions (filing bogus copyright infringement lawsuits, “free” costumed performers) puts the companies to work for the city. As long as they only agree on this element, nothing will ever move forward.

And once again, we see that government entities — like many private companies — are quick to turn to abuse of IP protections once they’ve run out of good ideas — or, in this case, when they didn’t have any good ideas to begin with.

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Companies: disney, marvel

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Comments on “NYPD Asks Disney, Marvel To Abuse IP Law To Help Rid Times Square Of Spiderman, Mickey Mouse”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Comparing NY to Las Vegas...

…there were 38 costumed panhandlers, five topless ladies and an artist who paints people’s naked bodies in full view in Times Square…

While it’s understandable to compare the situation with Las Vegas there are a few glaring differences.

In Las Vegas the costumed performers are called “buskers” and (if not already) will be subject to permit. They don’t panhandle but do have signs soliciting donations. And AFAIK none of them object to pictures. Las Vegas does have their share of panhandlers but those folks normally don’t wear costumes.

Haven’t seen nor heard of topless ladies wandering around the tourist areas; the only places for this are the “european style pools”. But have seen quite a bit of risque dress by tourists on the Strip and downtown. Even Las Vegas’ ‘working ladies’ dress business casual or classy.

And I’d like to see the permit process for ‘an artist who paints naked bodies in full (public) view’ in Las Vegas. I’ll be surprised if somebody actually gets a permit for that.

btr1701 (profile) says:


> and any efforts targeting female toplessness
> specifically will obviously (and correctly) be
> hailed as sexist (and a possible violation of the
> First Amendment).

Actually, it would be a violation of the Equal Protection Clause, not the 1st Amendment, since it would be the government treating women differently from men.

If the city banned *all* toplessness– both male and female– there would be no legal problem, which suggests no 1st Amendment concern, since if it was a protected speech issue, the constitutional violation wouldn’t be cured by banning that speech by both genders.

Shill on drugs says:

Someone asked a very important question in another post and I don’t think everyone saw the answer. I wanted to answer before Techdirt Google shill decided to censor my answer because they’re afraid of the truth. I noticed that

“Google is responsible for all the starving artists”

and so someone asked a good question. The question was

“Who’s responsible for all the artists who aren’t starving?”

Why, the RIAA and the MPAA of course. Copyright law. Infringement is even responsible for making the humanitarian crisis in Haiti worse!!!

They also asked another good question that I think the answer could offer some good education to you Techdirt Coolaid sheep. The question was

“Who was responsible for all the artists who were starving before Google existed as a handy scapegoat for morons?”

Of course cassette tapes and the printing press. In fact all technology is to blame. Silly you, haven’t you been paying attention this whole time?

Now I hope this doesn’t get censored for being on target and telling the truth. Because we all know Google is going to tell Techdirt to censor this post or else they will stop paying them.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

So abusing the law to try and improve the image.

From the city who thinks it knows how much soda you should drink, fought tooth and nail against compensating people they scapegoated as being criminals (and some still claim they did it despite the real evidence), sodomized someone, randomly stops non-whites to look for a reason to arrest them (while wondering why those communities don’t support them).

Perhaps if they wanted to improve their image they should stop paying to have cop dramas shot in their city highlighting close to real cases and outrageous things.
Perhaps they should clean up those who enforce the law, rather than wrist slaps & paid vacations for rights violations.
Perhaps they should address the societal problems that lead to busking being some peoples only choice. (Not all buskers are bad or make the decision to busk as a last resort.)
Perhaps they should stop trying to police the entire fscking planet with their own special terrorist division who gets in the way more than helps.

Of all of the problems, trying to get MegaCorps to twist laws to give them the power to run undesirables out of the “nice peoples areas” shouldn’t be on high on that list. But everyones been hassled by a panhandler before, so striking at those of lower social standing is a good method for staying relevant to voters.

Personanongrata says:

Crypto-Fascist Control Freaks

NYPD Asks Disney, Marvel To Abuse IP Law To Help Rid Times Square Of Spiderman, Mickey Mouse

Bill Bratton is a pathetic know-nothing control freak who seemingly believes that every aspect of human activity he doesn’t agree with must be criminalized.

Doesn’t the NYPD have real crimes to solve?

Like for instance:

NYPD Solved 57% Of Murders Last Year

What are your chances of getting away with murder in New York City? About 43 percent, according to the NYPD. And your chances only improve if you use a car as your weapon of choice!


Apparently chasing down topless women and costumed avengers in Times Square take precedent over solving murders or other crimes for Mr. Bratton and the NYPD.

Coyne Tibbets (profile) says:

I P Law

(second version, sung to the animated Spider Man series theme)

I P Law!
I P Law!
They can’t escape from,
I P Law!

You deplore,
Can be stopped by a,
Little more…

I P!
It is a sure-fire fix-it,
Wherever you would nix it,
Haul out an I P law!

When someone creates something that might compete,
Use an I P Law their creation to defeat!

I P Law!
I P Law!
Club them soundly with,
I P Law!

They’ll give up,
Go away;
When you give them,
a legal stay.

I P will make them shut up,
You can make them hang up,
Haul out an I P Law!

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