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If you read yesterday’s post and thought “that won’t ever happen to me,” think again. In July, Disney sued a small, family-owned company, Kool Klown Party People, for advertising and using what they perceived to be Tigger and Eeyore costumes the company purchased on eBay to use at children’s parties.

Granted, Disney gave them several warnings and requested the couple turn the costumes over so they could be destroyed before starting a lawsuit. While the couple said they followed all of Disney’s other requests, they returned the costumes to the company where they purchased them. Now Disney is suing for $1,000,000. Talk about learning the hard way.

From Distant Creations blog,

“Disney is suing a couple for two costumes the couple bought for their party clown business. Experts think Disney is sending a message to possible trademark violators.
Marisol and David Chaveco, owners of Kool Klown Party People, purchased costumes of a tiger and a donkey not knowing it would give Disney a reason to come after them.”

http://www.distantcreations.com/blog/2008/07/11/disney-sues-couple-over-trademark-infringement/

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I was browsing the Etsy forums recently when I found myself in a thread that turned quite ugly. That was sad.

The thread focused, however, on copyright and trademark infringement by using images owned by companies like Disney and Sanrio (the Hello Kitty people). I think that anything someone does creatively is a great thing, and I don’t personally object to people creating jewelry, cards, scrapbooking stuff, etc., with well-known images and kid-friendly icons. They can be hot sellers. However, I’m not one of the big companies whose images are being used. It is cause for concern if these sellers don’t know that they can be in quite a bit of trouble if they are using these images without permission (which was the case in the forums), or if they don’t care.

On eBay, there is a VeRO program, and if a large company complains that someone is using its images illegally, those items come down and sellers are warned. I know. I’ve been a victim of VeRO for unknowingly using the term Shabby Chic to describe a fabric that was not actually owned by the Rachel Ashwell company. The term is a registered trademark of Rachel Ashwell. I didn’t know. I thought it was a decor style and I was selling fabric that fit that style. My listing was taken down–no refunded listing fees. Fortunately, it was only a warning, and I got the message. And I sent an apology to the Rachel Ashwell company for unknowingly infringing on her trademark.

Using Disney images or other copyrighted, trademarked and patented designs without permission can land you in hot water. On Etsy, we are for the most part little guys, but Etsy is growing, and eventually Disney or Sanrio could take notice. You don’t want to be the one they notice. Even certain Disney fabrics are no-no’s for creating anything for resale. Says so right on the selvage of most Winnie-the-Pooh fabrics – for home use only. Etsy is not in violation but you will be. And Etsy won’t be able to protect you.

I did a search on Etsy before I started this post for Disney Princess. 27 pages. A lot of those items may be supplies, but some are not. For Hello Kitty? 62 pages.

My suggestions?

1. Do your homework and make sure your products are not inadvertently in violation of any copyright, trademark or patent holders. And if they are, start brainstorming products that might sell just as well without putting your entire business in jeopardy.

2. Don’t refer to your product by the company name or trademarked product in the title of your listings. If you’ve made it, even if you’ve used images from Disney or Hello Kitty, it is not a Disney or Sanrio product. It is yours. However, the images are still theirs.

3. If you are selling something similar, say a costume, but it’s not the same and not infringing, don’t refer to it as [company name] such as Disney or Hello Kitty. In your description instead, if you want to get the keywords in, say something like “Feel just like Cinderella in this beautiful princess dress.” Don’t say its a Disney Cinderella Dress, even if you used a Disney pattern. It’s not. That’s like saying a pocketbook you made is a Coach bag.

4. Find out how to get the rights to use those images if they are your bread and butter. Just be prepared. It may cost you an arm and a leg.

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