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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.

needle

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.

Best,
Stacey

MAKE IT YOURSELF!

20 COMMENTS

  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.

    • 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.

    • Hilary Lucas SAYS...

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

  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.

  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.