As ephemeral and inconsequential as they many seem, GIFs are now an important part of the broader cultural conversation around TV or movies, all of which takes place on the internet, where GIFs are the lingua franca of the medium. It's how fans create a shorthand with one another, and it's also how shows and movies we've never seen can nevertheless have some fragment embed itself in our minds. They're the most important, least important part of a terribly important unimportant subject.
As with many things on the internet, those who create and use GIFs are also not terribly concerned about matters of copyright, nor would we expect them to be. The question of legality surrounding GIFs is one without a clear answer, which, again, we wouldn't expect the average GIF user to be well-versed on even if it were a matter of settled law. The fast, free-flowing world of internet content has little care for stodgy matters like copyright law, and besides, there's probably plenty of shows, studios or creators who are happy to have some small part of their work shared if it means that their show or movie is getting buzz and attention.
Most is not everyone, though, and there was concern that the folks at the venerable cultural colossus Disney didn't share that same laisses-faire attitude towards GIFs. Stories emerged about the company stifling GIFs of one of its newest and instantly most beloved characters from its flagship Disney+ show "The Mandalorian," citing copyright concerns. For those unfamiliar with the program, the show features a creature that has been dubbed "Baby Yoda" and has won over the hearts of Star Wars fan everywhere for being unbearably adorable. Those other cute animals you once enjoyed? Trash compared to this precious albeit entirely fictitious creature. I'd challenge anyone to look at this picture and tell me they wouldn't at least consider watching a show in which this featured prominently, which is what made the initial reports of the takedowns so perplexing. Clips of Baby Yoda lasting a few seconds aren't going to substitute for full episodes of a show, and if anything would serve as free publicity (not that Disney needs it.)
As it turns out, those initial reports ended up not being true, or at least not the full story. GIPHY, one of the top sites for GIFs, put out a statement saying that they were responsible for the takedown of Baby Yoda GIFs, citing confusion over the content that led to a temporary removal pending a review. What the exact nature of the confusion is is anyone's guess; the cynical read might be that Disney asked for the removal and then backtracked in the face of backlash and asked GIPHY to take the heat, or that GIPHY took proactive action to avoid the displeasure of a company with Disney's corporate heft. Regardless, Baby Yoda is back, and the world of GIFs continues to operate largely outside the purview of the law, fittingly for a show about a bounty hunter.