If I make hair bows inspired by Disney characters and would like to start selling them, how can I make sure there are no copyright issues?

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If I make hair bows inspired by Disney characters and would like to start selling them, how can I make sure there are no copyright issues?

I do not use ribbons with copyrighted characters, only ribbons in the colors of those characters – for example, I make a snow white inspired bow with red, yellow and blue ribbons with an apple on top. Is this OK? And am I allowed to say it is “Snow White inspired”?

Asked on February 18, 2015 under Business Law, North Carolina

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 6 years ago | Contributor

Copyright would prevent you from making anything copied or closely based on the way a character is drawn--so, for example, copying any hair bow worn by Snow White. And trademark prevents you from using a trademarked image or name/term owned by another. And finally, unfair competition law would prevent suggesting a connection between you and Disney. In the aggregate, if you do not copy any specific element from a Disney character (and you *can* use their colors; the colors are not protected), do not suggest that you are connected to Disney, and only make bows for characters which have at least one non-Disney or public domain source plus Disney, you'd be fine.

To use a different example, since (despite two daughters) I don't know the world of Disney Princesses, that well--take Thor. Marvel Comics has one version of Thor, but the character exists outside of Marvel and even pre-dated Marvel. No one could have an image of the Marvel Thor, his costume, or his version of the hammer, without Marvel's permission. But someone could but a different-looking hammer on a tee shirt with the word "Thor" on the shirt and not infringe Marvel.

So you can be inspired by Disney, but don't suggest a connection, use an element from the Disney character, and make sure there is at least one non-Disney source to cite.


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