Selling Handmade Disney Items: Trademark and Copyright Laws

Jun 10, 2024 | Business Tips for Crafters


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Understanding Disney Trademarks and Copyright Laws for Crafters

Whether you are crafting handmade items for your family or for your small business, there would be nothing more devastating than the Disney legal department hitting you with a lawsuit!   As small businesses, this could instantly put you out of business. I know we see a lot of Etsy sellers doing it, but that doesn't mean it's legal!

From Mickey Mouse to Elsa, the world of Disney provides endless inspiration. However, when it comes to incorporating Disney imagery into your crafts or screen printing, it’s crucial to understand the intricacies of trademark and copyright laws. The Walt Disney Company is known for its stringent protection of intellectual property, and navigating these waters can be challenging for crafters. Let's dive into what you need to know about using Disney products in your creative endeavors.​

family vacation shirts disney legal

Disney isn't the only brand with copyright protection that is commonly violated by top Etsy sellers. This topic also applies to Harry Potter, Precious Moments, professional sports teams, and many more are protected by trademarks. 

NOTE: The information provided in this article does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice; instead, this article is for general informational and educational purposes only. Copyright laws vary by country, so consult your local laws on these topics.  

  

 

Disney Trademarks and Copyrights: The Basics

The Walt Disney Company holds numerous trademarks and copyrights to protect its characters and other intellectual properties. Trademark law and copyright law serve different purposes but are both essential in safeguarding Disney's creations. Trademarks protect brand names, logos, and slogans that distinguish Disney merchandise from others in the market. Copyright laws, on the other hand, protect original works of authorship, including the artistic and literary aspects of Disney characters.

Trademark and Copyright Infringement

Using Disney characters in your craft items or hand-made artwork without the proper license can lead to trademark infringement or copyright infringement. Trademark infringement occurs when there's unauthorized use of a trademark in a way that is likely to cause confusion about the source of the product. For example, selling a handmade item with a Disney logo without permission can mislead consumers into thinking it’s an official Disney product.

Copyright infringement involves using a protected work without the copyright owner’s permission. This includes reproducing, distributing, or displaying Disney characters in your crafts without authorization. Even if you're using Disney fabric bought from a store, you’re only permitted to use it for personal use unless the fabric is licensed for commercial purposes.

disney trademark when crafting making shirts

Navigating the Legal Landscape

Many crafters wonder if they can sell items featuring Disney characters. The short answer is NO! The Walt Disney Company actively monitors and takes legal action against unauthorized use of their intellectual properties. This applies to selling on platforms like Etsy shop, where even non-commercial uses of Disney imagery can attract attention if it leads to the sale of unlicensed Disney merchandise.

For those passionate about creating Disney-themed crafts for personal or individual use, like your upcoming family vacation, there are legal ways to do this. In Cricut Design Space, you will find a variety of Disney images you can use upon purchasing the graphic license. Be sure to read more about Cricut's Angel Policy for all of the details. 

Personal Use vs. Public Domain

While using Disney characters for personal use, such as making a quilt for your own home with copyrighted fabric, typically doesn’t attract legal action, selling those items crosses into a different territory. It’s also worth noting that very few Disney characters fall into the public domain, where the copyright has expired and the material is free to use without permission. Most iconic Disney characters like Mickey Mouse are still under active protection, however Steamboat Willie expired in January of 2024.

Time Magazine reported “In January 2024, the copyright on Steamboat Willie officially expired, and Mickey Mouse is now officially in the public domain. This means that now anyone in the U.S. can use the Steamboat Willie version of the Mickey Mouse character without fear of copyright infringement.”

Protecting Your Crafting Business

To protect your crafting business from potential legal issues, always ensure you’re using materials within the bounds of copyright laws and trademark law. If you are interested in crafting products with a trademarked item, you should contact the intellectual property owners first. Some brands will offer licensing agreements.  Before you use college logos, a trademarked character, fan art from your favorite Disney movies, or any Disney material, be sure to contact the owner of the copyright or original work. If you’re unsure about the legality of a project, consulting with a legal expert can provide clarity and help avoid costly legal action.

using mickey minnie mouse screen printing crafts

Crafting with Disney characters can bring joy and creativity into your projects, but it’s essential to respect the Walt Disney Company’s intellectual property rights. By understanding trademark infringement and copyright infringement, using licensed fabric, and adhering to copyright laws, you can ensure your crafts remain both unique and lawful. Always remember to check the specifics of any licensed material and stay informed about what constitutes fair use and personal use. With careful consideration, you can continue to enjoy your crafting hobby without running afoul of legal constraints.

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I’m Jennifer, your go-to for all things vinyl screen printing. I offer both in-person and online classes to help you craft better quality shirts. This blog is full of screen printing inspiration to get your creative juices flowing. Roll up your sleeves and get ready to learn all about screen printing with vinyl!

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