14 August 2018Copyright

Disney suffers setback in party character dispute

Disney Enterprises has been knocked back in its copyright and trademark dispute with a company which offers themed characters for hire at events.

District Judge George Daniels denied Disney’s request for summary judgment of infringement at the US District Court for the Southern District of New York on Thursday, August 9.

Disney and its subsidiaries, including Marvel Characters and Lucasfilm Entertainment, filed a lawsuit against Nick Sarelli in March 2016.

Through, Sarelli offers more than 3,500 themed characters to be hired for corporate parties, birthdays, and other events.

Disney said that the themed party services are liable for “depicting or incorporating” its copyright-protected works and registered trademarks.

All of Disney’s characters, such as Mickey Mouse, Cinderella, and Aladdin, are protected by copyright registrations in the US, Disney said. It also owns the exclusive rights to market and license merchandise which features the word or design marks for Disney characters.

Marvel characters including Spider-Man, Iron Man, and Captain America are also protected by copyright and trademark registrations, as are Lucasfilm characters such as Darth Vader, Luke Skywalker, and Princess Leia.

Characters for Hire reportedly offers all of the Disney characters named above, and more, for hire through its platform.

Disney’s complaint noted that the merchandising and licensing of distinctive characters is a “significant aspect” of its business, and it has not authorised Characters for Hire to use any of the IP-protected characters.

Disney asked the court to order a permanent injunction against Sarelli, in addition to damages, costs, and attorneys’ fees. It also requested summary judgment in relation to the infringement and dilution claims.

Sarelli asked the court for summary judgment in his favour.

Last week, Daniels dismissed all of Disney’s motions and some of Sarelli’s motions.

He granted Sarelli’s motion to dismiss Disney’s claims for trademark infringement, unfair competition, and false designation of origin.

Daniels said that Disney had not shown a likelihood of confusion as to the origin of the services provided by Characters for Hire, and not “a single recorded instance of consumer confusion” has been documented.

He also said that Disney failed to prove that Sarelli had acted in bad faith to deceive consumers.

There is no evidence that Disney’s trademarked characters in costume, which are located at theme parks in Florida and California, are likely to compete with Characters for Hire by offering their services for private entertainment purposes, Daniels added.

In relation to the other motions, the judge said that allegations such as trademark dilution present “a genuine issue of material fact” that should be addressed by a jury.

Yesterday, WIPR reported that Marvel is considering whether to oppose two trademark applications which feature similarities to the name of a fictional country featured in recent box office hit “Black Panther”.

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