Major companies are notorious for enforcing strict guidelines regarding copyright laws. Which is why in a Season 4 of Arrested Development, Tobias dresses up as this:
So that he doesn’t look too much like this:
And he still gets a cease-and-desist letter from Marvel!
No corporation is more infamous for its ruthlessness when it comes to copyright restrictions, however, than Disney.
A Mental Floss article from 2012 mentions that back in 1989 Disney “threatened to sue the owners of three Florida daycare centers who had decorated their buildings’ walls with unauthorized images of several trademarked Disney characters”. Another article from The Hollywood Reporter describes a similar instance from September 2015, in which Disney and Sanrio filed a copyright lawsuit against a business owner for selling products “which incorporate unauthorized likenesses of animated or live-action characters or other logos.”
According to this website, someone could plausibly (legally) use Disney characters or other content only by either:
- Getting permission directly from the company (which will likely end up being very expensive);
- Exercising “fair use” of the characters (by, for example, using Disney characters for academic or parodic purposes)
- Exercising “transformative use” of the characters (by altering the original character(s) to such an extent that the company is unable to claim copyright infringement)
The two instances of copyright infringement listed above, though they take places years apart from one another, exemplify how unforgiving Disney can be when it comes to the use and portrayal of trademarked or copyrighted content by outsiders. And if Disney is willing to sue an innocent Florida resident for putting up Disney-themed wallpaper, it’s safe to say that anyone who wants to use any character, logo, or story owned by Disney should be extremely, extremely careful.
What would happen if Disney’s content was shared under a Creative Commons license? I honestly think that it would be a win-win scenario for all parties involved. Disney fans could decorate their rooms, record Disney covers, and bake Disney-themed cakes to their heart’s content, and I don’t think a company as big as Disney would really suffer in terms of reputation OR income by allowing others to use their content. It would be interesting to see what would happen if Disney or another big corporation like Sony or 20th Century Fox removed or at least loosened some of their policies regarding copyright.