Companies get big by protecting their intellectual property (among other things), but what happens when they become huge? It can be hard to manage a massive international concern as it is, and trying to fend off a multitude of instances of infringement while handling all of the other daily corporate concerns can be like trying to play whack-a-mole while juggling. It's important to protect your brand and send a message to other scofflaws, but can it prove to be a case of exerting more resources than you're losing when weighing the cost of continued legal action?
Disney has been pursuing a copyright and trademark infringement lawsuit against Characters for Hire, a firm that specializes in sending costumed actors to children's parties and events, in this case as faintly concealed versions of Disney characters or knockoffs, depending on your perspective. And in a damaging first blow, the judge in the case rejected Disney's request for summary judgment and several of the company's trademark claims against the defendant.
In dismissing some of the claims, U.S. District Court Judge George Daniels noted that while there were similarities between iconic Disney characters and the characters that Characters for Hire send to parties, the changes to the character design and the disclaimers that Characters for Hire offer on their website and other material provide potential customers with adequate knowledge that the business isn't affiliated with Disney. Disney's claims of confusion and loss of revenue from sales were also rejected, as the judge noted that Characters for Hire has operated since 2012 without any demonstrable loss of revenue for Disney, and children's birthday parties are planned by adults who are not likely to be confused about the nature and affiliation of the costumed characters on offer.
Indeed, Disney's evidence in pressing their case(s) against Characters for Hire were customer reviews on the company's website that mentioned Disney characters by name, as well as low quality screenshots of the website and social media posts that Disney believed to show proof of the infringement but which the judge inadmissible and unauthenticated. Disney can forge ahead with its copyright case if it chooses, as well as one trademark claim of dilution, but with these setbacks and the fact that Disney cannot point to its own in-home costumed character service, it raises the question of whether Disney wishes to continue to expend its resources on pursuing the case, as limitless as they may seem.