Disney: The Only Fun Allowed At Children's Birthday Parties Is Properly Licensed Fun
from the mouse-in-the-house dept
Readers of this site will hear the name Disney and immediately begin rolling their eyes. By virtue of its insanely aggressive and expansionist views on intellectual property matters, Disney manages to find itself on the wrong side of nearly every issue. Disney is in the business of making money and it often looks to do so in the most draconian of manners, but the company also bills itself as being dedicated to children’s entertainment, growth, and happiness.
Which is why it’s somewhat odd to see the giant media company going to IP war against a company that sends unlicensed, poorly-disguised homage characters to children’s birthday parties.
Characters for Hire in New York has been hit with a lawsuit after being accused by Disney of infringing upon “highly valuable intellectual property rights” (via the Hollywood Reporter). This includes Star Wars and Frozen characters, as well as superheroes such as Iron Man.
Except that those characters are altered ever so slightly and renamed in an obvious attempt to get around the exact intellectual property laws — copyright and trademark — over which Disney is suing. Darth Vader, for instance, is listed as Dark Lord, while Chewbacca has been rebranded as Big Hairy Guy. No, that’s not a joke. On the company’s homepage, it displays the following disclaimer:
DISCLAIMER: ALL COSTUMED CHARACTERS ARE GENERIC/INSPIRED AND ARE NOT AFFILIATED, LICENSED OR ASSOCIATED WITH ANY CORPORATION OR TRADEMARK. It is not our intention to violate any copyright laws. The characters that we offer are NOT name brand copyrighted characters, and Characters for Hire, LLC. costumed characters are named of our own creation. Any resemblance to nationally known copyrighted characters is strictly coincidental. Should you have the need for a licensed, copyrighted mascot or character at your event, we encourage you to contact the company/copyright holders for your specific targeted character. If you have any questions regarding this issue, we encourage you to contact us. We DO NOT offer nor do we present any licensed and/or copyrighted characters.
For that reason, Characters For Hire is claiming that both the copyright and trademark claims from Disney aren’t valid. The characters are altered and renamed in an effort to gain protection from the idea/expression dichotomy, with those same changes and the disclaimer making it clear to the public that the company has no affiliation with the IP owners of the original characters from which these generics are inspired.
That said… yeah, but no. The point made in the disclaimer that the likenesses are strictly coincidental is laughable at best. It’s very likely that the copyright portion of Disney’s claims will hold up in court. The trademark claims have less a chance of success, as it’s abundantly clear that these are not licensed characters or associated in any way with companies like Disney. But, still, the so-called generic characters of Characters For Hire appear to be more than merely “inspired” by the originals and are instead near identical characters with alterations made only to get around copyright law.
But the larger point is: hey, Disney, why? Given that the copyright claims are the most substantive, there was nothing requiring Disney to take this action. Certainly it is laughable for Disney to claim any serious harm from a copyright perspective due to Characters For Hire’s actions. All this is really doing is keeping some fun, if unoriginal, characters from entertaining kids and people at birthdays and related events. Is giving up the stated aim to make children happy really worth smacking around a relatively small company that works these sorts of parties?