Over on TheRPF, there’s a discussion going on about Disney, now that they own a lot of popular media properties, going postal on costumers and unauthorized prop makers and there are a lot of people up in arms, calling Disney all kinds of names, just because they might call in the infamous Disney lawyers on people who are doing things under the table. But there is one very important thing that these people are forgetting, one thing they absolutely refuse to acknowledge: Disney is 100% within their legal rights to do it if they choose to do so!
That’s really the thing that I never understand from costumers and prop makers and all of those folks. Whether they like it or not, whether they’ve enjoyed a vague anonymity in the past or not, what they are doing is still technically illegal and Disney, as the registered copyright owner on record, has every legal, ethical and moral right to come down like a ton of bricks on their heads if they so choose. Welcome to the real world, Neo.
Of course, I agree with most people that it would be foolish for Disney to take action against groups like the 501st Stormtroopers or demand that they only operate in Disney approved activities, etc. The 501st has been a fantastic outreach program for the Star Wars community and Lucasfilm and now Disney is getting a lot of free publicity from their good works. So long as that is true, Disney really has no cause to step in and demand changes. If the 501st suddenly started appearing at strip clubs and got involved with selling drugs, you’d better believe they’d be shut down before they could whack their heads. These groups operate at the largesse of Disney, Disney doesn’t owe them a thing. The idea that somehow Disney is the bad guy because some people want to produce unlicensed and unauthorized props is absurd. Places like TheRPF, as I’ve written before, are always in the legal wrong, it isn’t a gray area, it’s solidly a violation of copyright law.
That doesn’t mean that I think Disney has any cause to go after small operators who are essentially making no money off of their props, especially when Disney isn’t releasing similar props that are losing money from the operation. It isn’t like these people have any money to go after, it would be a waste of Disney’s time to do so, even though, in theory, they are required to vigorously defend their copyrights at every turn or risk losing them. It’s easier for Disney to feign ignorance of what’s going on unless it becomes large enough that they have to take action.
These people really need to stop stomping their feet and shaking their fists in the air and start thanking their lucky stars that Disney has decided that what they’re doing isn’t worth taking action over. Disney could shut down all the illegal people making crap on Etsy tomorrow, they could end under-the-table prop makers if they wanted to. They probably couldn’t do a thing about the 501st, they certainly have no reason to stop anyone from cosplaying as their characters so long as they aren’t making money at it, but Disney’s legal rights don’t make them the bad guys. It makes them on the right side of the law.