Disney Fights Back Against Unlicensed Use of Iconic Characters at Parties and Events

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Disney Fights Back Against Unlicensed Use of Iconic Characters at Parties and Events

Disney is in a legal battle with Nick Sarelli over his company’s use of iconic Disney characters. Sarelli, who owns Characters for Hire, LLC, is under attack from Disney for using characters from movies such as Frozen and Star Wars at parties and events.

Disney is being represented by the firm of Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer. In summary judgement papers filed by Disney, Characters for Hire’s operation is described thusly:

Defendants Nick Sarelli and Characters for Hire, LLC ( CFH ) operate a live costumed entertainment business that provides unlicensed and poor quality appearances of and performances by Plaintiffs’ iconic characters for themed events, such as children’s parties. CFH’s knock-off business is built upon the infringement of Plaintiffs’ highly valuable intellectual property rights. CFH copies, displays, and mimics the trademark and copyright-protected images, names, likenesses, and personas of Plaintiffs’ characters, as well as Plaintiffs’ films, musical and other creative works, to advertise and provide unauthorized versions of these characters to the fans of Plaintiffs’ works

Disney is claiming trademark violation regarding Characters for Hire’s advertising and promotion, such as Frozen-themed party packages, in addition to the franchise character performers themselves, who “who mimic their personas, attributes, and famous story lines”. Disney believes this leaves the origin or sponsorship of these events unclear to the audience of the unlicensed performances.

Disney also cites Sarelli’s versions of their characters as “low-quality knock-offs” and his company’s products as “shoddy services that are inimical to Plaintiffs’ reputation for high quality goods and services, and impeccable customer care.”

There are also accusations of copyright infringement, as Disney claims Characters for Hire “reproduces and publicly displays unauthorized images and performances of Plaintiffs’ copyrighted characters and musical works, including numerous promotional videos and images on the internet.”

The Feldman Law Group, which is representing Sarelli is disputing both the trademark and copyright allegations. Claiming “CFH’s advertising and promotional materials do not copy, reproduce, distribute or display any of the two-dimensional artwork that is the subject of those copyright registrations.”

It goes on to dispute the assertion that Disney possesses full ownership of all of the characters in question:

Numerous “characters” to which Plaintiffs’ claim rights in this action, namely Rapunzel, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Aladdin, Beauty (of Beauty and the Beast), Snow White, the Little Mermaid, Thor, Loki, and Princess Aurora, originally appeared in fairy tales, folk tales and other works hundreds, and in some instances thousands of years ago.

The Feldman group takes the stance that Characters for Hire has a legitimate justification for using descriptive terms as “…such descriptive uses are non-actionable given that there is no confusion as to the source of CFH’s services, or as to Plaintiffs’ endorsement, sponsorship or licensing of those services.” Therefore, there is no trademark infringement.

What are your thoughts on the lawsuit? Should event companies be able to use “Disney-like” characters?


News Source: The Hollywood Reporter


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