Disney Lawsuit Over Unauthorized Characters and Kids Parties Hits a Snag

Disney’s attempt to sue a company specializing in children’s birthday party entertainment featuring unlicensed characters is proving difficult, with a judge declining to grant summary judgment for Disney.

What’s happening:

  • Yesterday, The Hollywood Reporter posted an article about a current Disney court case involving trademark infringement. Disney has taken a New York based entertainment company to court for unauthorized use of Disney characters.
  • The company, Characters For Hire LLC (CFH) provides costumed appearances of popular characters for birthday parties and special events. The company claims that the costumes are generic and all similarities to trademarked versions are coincidental.
  • U.S. District Court Judge George Daniels finds that Disney’s trademark claims aren’t substantial. Judge Daniels finds no indication that CFH is causing confusion for customers and notes that it’s “adults, not children” planning events. Additionally, references to Disney properties only come from “a handful of instances” where adults commenting in online reviews referred to the character as such.
  • Some of the characters in question include “The Princess,” who Disney says looks like Princess Leia and “Big Hairy Guy” — AKA Chewbacca.

Memorandum and Decision Order from Judge Daniels:

  • “The only anecdotal ‘evidence’ [Disney] can muster are a handful of instances where CFH’s customers referred to the actual names of Plaintiffs’ characters in online reviews rather than using the names provided for such characters on CFH’s website. Yet, none of the customer reviews suggest the slightest sign of confusion as to the origin, source, affiliation, or sponsorship of CHF’s services, much less confusion likely to produce ‘a diversion of sales, damage to goodwill, or loss of control over reputation. Plaintiffs also fail to offer statistical surveys showing any instances of consumer confusion despite CFH providing character-for-hire services using Plaintiffs’ trademarked characters since at least 2012. That Plaintiffs and Defendants have used similar marks over a substantial period of time without ever producing a single recorded instance of consumer confusion shows that there is no likelihood of consumer confusion.”
  • “Based on the current record, this Court cannot conclude that Defendants have infringed Plaintiffs’ copyrighted characters because Plaintiffs do not point to any admissible evidence demonstrating that Defendants have engaged in the alleged infringing conduct. For instance, Plaintiffs rely on various poor quality screenshots of CFH’s website and other social media sites, including screenshots of older versions of the websites preserved by the Internet Archive… The screenshots and videos, however, have not been properly authenticated…”