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Why does Disney ‘go after the little guys’?

Disney’s characters are copyrighted. You can’t use a drawing of Mickey Mouse and sell it on a mug, unless you have authorized consent to distribute the image.

Disney has a reputation for being ruthless about protecting its intellectual property (example stories of folks getting sued here and here).

cartoon lawyer

This leaves a lot of questions from crafters asking, Why does Disney go after the little guys?

In short: they have to

I’m not a lawyer (disclaimer!), but since I’m in the crafting industry, I have a fair understanding about copyright.

Let’s pretend that Disney finds out that Crissy Crafter has been using images of Mickey Mouse without permission.

Then, let’s pretend that Disney decides she’s ‘too small’ and doesn’t do anything about it.


What happens?

In this case, Disney has put itself in a very sticky situation. By failing to press charges, it can be argued that they are ‘allowing’ this illegal usage to occur, and may have trouble defending future cases.

So, they have to pursue every case they find!

What’s a crafter to do?

Disney, as the creator of these characters, has the right to defend the images.

As a crafter, your best course of action is to just do what’s right. Don’t design and sell crochet patterns of Mickey Mouse. Don’t sell necklaces with drawings of Mickey Mouse. Violating someone else’s copyright can get you into trouble.

cant do that

It’s also unfair a crafter to benefit by using someone else’s brand. By selling ‘Mickey Mouse necklaces’, you’re giving the impression that you have an official connection with Disney, and you are piggybacking off their fame to generate sales for yourself.

Be creative! Come up with your own unique designs and characters! And stay out of trouble!

Comments, welcome!

As always, I welcome comments on this blog post.

However, from past experience, I know that blog posts about copyright are controversial and generate heated discussion.

My goal in writing this post was simply to explain to crafters one motivation behind Disney’s enforcement of its copyright.

As I am not a legal expert, I will not reply to any questions/comments about what is/isn’t copyright infringement. Thank you in advance for understanding.




  1. Sallee Van Veldhuizen SAYS...

    I sew and sell sundresses for little girls at a local consignment boutique. I just purchased Mickey Mouse fabric from Hobby Lobby to make a few dresses. Would I be violating copyright laws? To be on the safe side, I guess my granddaughters will be wearing alot of Mickey clothing – LOL.

      • Justine SAYS...

        I mean, No, you can’t sell it. Yes, it would be a violation.

      • Jennifer SAYS...

        Pretty sure you’re link confirms that she can sell them.

    • Jason Tierney SAYS...

      Be careful, Walt Disney doesn’t like people using their Copyright or Trademark Characters which they owned. To answer your question if you violating copyright law then answer simple yes. You should first ask Disney’s legal permission first before you made dress,

      • Whoever made the fabric paid for the license to sell it. Since you are now buying the fabric, you can make and sell the dresses. It’s like if you buy a picture. You pay for the picture. You can frame it and sell it for more.
        What you cannot do is COPY the image on anything.

        • Beth SAYS...

          She bought the fabric doesn’t mean she bought a license to sell dresses. The fabric manufacturer has a license to sell the Disney product, but that doesn’t mean the buyer bought the license too. The buyer only bought the fabric itself (not the license) to make whatever she wants for personal use, aka her granddaughter dress, but not for commercial use.

        • Beth SAYS...

          You are both correct and wrong. Correct – whoever made the fabric paid for the license to sell it. Wrong – Since you care now buying the fabric, you can make and sell the dresses.

          A license is a written contract with written permission stating it is ok to sell for profit. Does the fabric comes with a written license? I bet not.

          Buying the fabric does NOT mean the buyer bought the license to sell. Buying the fabric means the buyer can make dresses or whatever for personal (non-profit) use. Which means it’s ok to sew for her granddaughter to wear, but not ok to sell for profit.

    • Christopher SAYS...

      I don’t normally comment on things like this. And I’m not even sure how long it’s been since this comment was left. But for anyone else reading, purchasing licensed fabric to create something and reselling it is not a copyright violation. People saying it is are wrong.

      • Beth SAYS...

        Are you a copyright lawyer? Just because Disney haven’t come after you yet doesn’t mean it’s not a violation. Maybe it’s because Disney haven’t found out about your shop.

    • Hilary Lucas SAYS...

      Yes, it would ne in violation to sell.
      Fabrics are licensed and sold specifically for personal use only.

    • Chantal Giroux SAYS...

      To answer your question, yes you can sell the dresses with no worries. It falls under the first sale doctrine (anyone who thinks otherwise can go look that up to brush up on copyright laws). Basically they paid for the license to sell the fabric and in so you did when you bought it from them. You can then do with as you please. This is only valid for officially licensed things, so Cricut patterns that people sell on Etsy are generally not officially licensed, fabric is. First sales doctrine protects reselling and repurposing of items, otherwise you could never resell anything.

    • Anonymous SAYS...

      She clearly stated she isn’t answering questions about what is or isn’t infringement 🤦🏽‍♀️🤦🏽‍♀️

    • Anonymous SAYS...

      It says right on the selvage edge that the fabric is for personal use only. I watched cease and Desist letters handed out at an event and they did shut down any fabrics with the images.

  2. kim dawson SAYS...

    I do not have a problem with copy wright laws an understand them as well. I do not sell things though so I guess that is why it does not bother me…. but it surprises me how many people get sooo mad. However if it was turned around and some one was using their idea they would be all upset…

  3. as a matter of fact working on a website today, to have a very small business, not that Id use a Mickey Mouse, but your post about copyright infringement was a good thing to think about as I set this up. Thank You

  4. Kathy Gould SAYS...

    Stacy is correct, and everyone would enjoy something unique, something that you designed yourself! Open up that creative person in you!

  5. Amy SAYS...

    I have seen a lot of character-inspired patterns that I’m pretty sure are not connected to Disney or Marvel or whatever company owns the rights to the characters. I’m always a little surprised when I see them for sale. I’m no expert on copyright and fair use laws, but it does seem to me there is a difference in designing an unlicensed version of a character to give your nephew for his birthday and listing it for sale on Etsy.

    I’ve seen a lot of licensed-character inspired patterns for sale out there, that I’m pretty sure haven’t been blessed by their respective owners, and I don’t rally feel comfortable with those. My question (which I don’t expect you to answer for me!) is what about “fan art” that people create and share for free? It seems like if Disney, or whoever, isn’t creating licensed crochet patterns for their characters, and people who love those characters want to crochet them, but don’t have the skills to create their own patterns, those who have the desire and skills ought to be able to share their efforts. Maybe that’s not really how it works though. 🙂

  6. It’s understandable that people want to craft the characters they love and share them with others, but there are ways to satisfy those desires while still being respectful of copyright. One great alternative is to create patterns and objects for sale based on characters that are part of the public domain, meaning their copyrights have expired. You’d be surprised what is in the public domain! Jane Austen, Hans Christian Anderson, and Beatrix Potter just to name a few. You can make your own versions of those authors’ characters to your heart’s content.

    • Hilary Lucas SAYS...

      Yes … and my fave Alice in Wonderland (the original)

  7. I always joke that if I didn’t care about copyright, I would be rich. It would be so easy to make patterns based on characters that exist (and I’ve gotten requests to do so) but I know it’s just not worth it. It’s more fun to create my own content and I know I don’t have to worry about any legal backlash!

    • So true! Thanks for chiming in, Rebecca!

  8. Theresa M. Camil SAYS...

    I can understand copyright infringement and abide by it. I have a Brother sewing/embroidery machine and because Brother has a deal with Disney, I am able to buy and download embroidery patterns of Disney characters, through Brother, legally.

    • Anonymous SAYS...

      You aren’t able to sell those though. They are for personal use

  9. Ruth SAYS...

    Cartoon character images are a complex area of the law where copyright and trademark collide. Your post mashes up the rules of copyright and trademark. Specifically, it is not true that copyright holders “must” defend their copyright. It is completely optional, and in addition there are times when using-without-permission is allowed by copyright law (called “Fair Use”). Trademark holders on the other hand, must defend their trademarks. Trademarks that aren’t defended can become generic terms and then the holder loses any right to them (did you know lanolin was once a registered trademark?). There is no Fair Use in trademark. google “difference between copyright and trademark” for way more information 🙂

    • Thank you for adding that information, Ruth!

  10. T. Andrews SAYS...

    I just wanted a video on YouTube about how Disney has pretty much ruined public domain, which is funny considering that most of the Disney movies are remakes of other stories.

  11. Pingback: ‘We Committed Copyright Infringement and Want to Be Sued by Disney’ – Buzzmark News

  12. Really interesting read and makes it super clear why us small business can’t risk making copyright items. It’s a age old argument but at the end of the day if what you are making isn’t original, what’s the point?

  13. Susan SAYS...

    I know a woman who sells party princess services with Disney characters. She has named them differently but the costunes and storylines fit the Disney characters to the tee. Is she breaking copyrights by doing this?

  14. Ali SAYS...

    Yes, she is breaking copyright laws, regardless of whether the names have changed. They still look like the characters Disney spent millions promoting. It’s not that complicated. You can draw the characters, you can make a dress out of Disney fabric you purchased, you just can’t make a profit out of them, without purchasing the license to do so. It’s even more important to people like Disney, who have the merchandising designed and ready to go, before the movie is even finished.

  15. Ana Ferreira SAYS...

    I Hope your all ok. I do have a question in the matter of copyrights. So, if I adapt a design of a Disney character , make a pattern and offer it for free in my Instagram, is there any violation? or if I share a photograph of the pattern I made from the character and noting more , is that still a violation?

    I’m just asking because sharing this photos of the versions of characters really catch the attention of the costumers and even for the marketing of the store, but I don’t want to feel like a ‘stole’ someone’s hours of work

    🙂 Thank you

  16. McKenzie Later SAYS...

    I actually disagree with a lot of you on here. Its kind of pick and choose who they go after. Facebook and etsy are full of sellers who make profit off of Disney products. The reason why we as creators think its so risky is that when a story goes big about Disney going after someone, it scares people. But the truth is that most people who sell Disney products are fine.

  17. Lynn SAYS...

    Licensed fabric sold by craft supply stores have a copyright statement clearly written on the selvage stating that it is for personal use only. This statement is even on non licensed fabric. So, legally, selling anything you make from fabric purchased at one of these stores is copyright infringement. Each fabric is someone’s design. Someone made the art or design and that design is protected by copyright law. Someone stated that they could buy a picture and put it in a frame and sell it for more AMF that would be legal. That is not exactly true. Paintings, pictures and such also have copyright protection. You go to a studio and have your portrait taken. The person in the portrait AND the photographer or painter BOTH own the copyright for that item. The portrait cannot be copied unless approved by the artist behind the camera or paintbrush and the artist cannot display it without the permission of the person in the portrait…unless there is a signed release which gives free reigns over the portrait in question.

  18. Lynn SAYS...

    McKenzie, you are correct that most people who sell copyright items are fine…But, most people that speed when driving don’t get caught- until they do. Then it sucks.