It is always interesting to see how the strongest defenders of copyright can often be found infringing -- sometimes in the most obvious ways imaginable. A bunch of folks have sent in variations on this story, concerning Katie Woodger, an artist who did a painting of Alice in Wonderland
a few years ago, and later discovered that the same image was clearly copied onto a cosmetic bag that Disney is selling
. Woodger also claims that a similar work is used on a t-shirt. Here's the graphic comparison she put together.
This is complicated on a variety of levels. I don't find the final image to be problematic at all, because (at best) you could argue that Disney copied the idea. But copyright is about expression, not the idea. As for the bag, it's clear that Disney copied Woodger's image, but even that raises some interesting questions. The original Alice in Wonderland
by Lewis Carroll (Charles Lutwidge Dodgson) has long since passed into the public domain. The original illustrations by John Tenniel have also gone into the public domain. However, the popular Disney movie
is still covered by copyright. You could ask a question as to whether or not Woodger's image draws on any of the copyright protected elements of the Disney movie, in which case her own copyright claims on her image may be limited. Still, even in that case, it would seem that there could be some copyright claims in parts of her creation and that certainly would not allow Disney to wholesale copy the image.
That said, it does feel a little bit shady for Woodger to complain about someone else using her image, when her image is clearly based on the work of others as well. That's how creativity works. Still, given Disney's general maximalist tendencies, it's telling that even it can be found to copy the work of others without permission. For what it's worth, there are lots
of stories of companies pulling random designs and artwork that they find on the internet and placing it on t-shirts and bags and other products. It's just somewhat ironic to see it being done by Disney in particular.