A New York federal judge has refused a summary judgement in favor of Disney Enterprises, INC in it’s ongoing case against Characters For Hire. Characters For Hire is a company that provides “premium characters” for happenings ranging from birthday parties to corporate events. On Thursday, U.S. District Court Judge George Daniels acknowledged that Characters For Hire has similar characters to those owned by Disney but does not see where the they would be confused for actual Disney owned characters.
While Characters For Hire specifically states on their website “We are the largest provider of generic costumed characters (WE DO NOT OFFER TRADEMARKED CHARACTERS)”, they have personalities labeled as “The Princess” and “Big Hairy Guy”, as well as others that have a striking resemblance to Princess Leia and Chewbacca from Star Wars. There have also been instances of Frozen and Avengers themed parties advertised on their website. Characters For Hire even amended their contracts a few years ago to include the following:
“Client understands that costumed characters are generic/inspired and are NOT affiliated, licensed or associated with any copyright or trademark. It is not our intention to violate any copyright laws. The characters that we offer are NOT name brand copyrighted characters, and Character for Hire, LLC costumed characters are named of our own creation. Any resemblances to nationally known copyrighted characters is strictly coincidental. We DO NOT offer nor do we present any licensed and/or copyrighted characters.”
Disney (the Plaintiff) filed claims against Characters For Hire “for trademark infringement, copyright infringement, and unfair competition and false designation of origin” as well as “trademark dilution”. The judges ruling is as follows:
“Defendants’ motion for summary judgment, (ECF No. 66), dismissing Plaintiffs’ claims for (i) trademark infringement, (ii) unfair competition, and (iii) false designation of origin is GRANTED. However, Defendants’ motion for summary judgment dismissing Plaintiffs’ claims for (i) trademark dilution, and (ii) copyright infringement is DENIED. Plaintiffs’ motion for partial summary judgment on its claims of (i) trademark infringement, (ii) copyright infringement, and (iii) trademark dilution, (ECF No. 59), is similarly DENIED.”
“Based on the current record, this Court cannot conclude that Defendants have infringed Plaintiffs’ copyrighted characters because Plaintiffs do not point to any admissible evidence demonstrating that Defendants have engaged in the alleged infringing conduct,” writes the judge. “For instance, Plaintiffs rely on various poor quality screenshots of CFH’s website and other social media sites, including screenshots of older versions of the websites preserved by the Internet Archive… The screenshots and videos, however, have not been properly authenticated…”
Disney and Characters For Hire will be back in court at a later date if a settlement is not reached.
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