Why don’t Disney and the owners of other licensed characters stop the Times Square Elmos, Minnie Mice, Woodies, Spidermen, Batmen, etc.? The street characters have gotten a lot of bad press lately for harassing tourists and fist fights, so I’m sure the character owners aren’t happy with headlines like “Racist Elmo Terrorizes Times Square – Gets Arrested” or the accompanying photo: http://www.brooklynbrand.us/2012/09/racist-elmo-terrorizes-times-square.html.
Even without the bad behavior, I thought Disney and like companies were pretty strict about not letting people use costumes or likenesses without their approval. Some bakeries won’t do a Mickey Mouse cake, for instance, if they’re not properly licensed to use that image. I don’t think you can get a realistic Elmo or Woody outfit from a costume store unless they’re licensed to provide them. I’ve even heard of day care centers receiving a lawyer letter telling them to remove their Winnie the Pooh mural.
The NYC police have said they’re unhappy with the proliferation of characters in Times Square and their behavior, but that they’re unable to stop them. If Disney made a fuss about their trademarks being abused flagrantly, it seems the police could use that to say the characters are breaking the law and make them go away.
My guess is that Disney et al doesn’t want any bad publicity as a result of all this. Seeing Mickey Mouse handcuffed and being thrown in the back of a police car certainly wouldn’t look good for Disney either.
It’s my understanding this falls more under trademark law than copyright law. And the key reason is the companies that own the trademarks don’t know who is in the costumes. And it would cost a lot of time and money to legally trace them down.
It’s much easier to issue a cease and desist letter to a bakery when you have all the information right at hand.
In fact Disney had a NYC councilman introduce a bill that would require costumed performers to be licensed and carry ID with them while performing.
That was my best guess, too, that they just don’t want to be associated with it or look like bad guys spoiling the fun. But their characters are *already *being handcuffed and thrown in police cars, so I’d expect them to want that stopped.
Good point. Wondering now if police could confiscate the costumes the same way they confiscate fake Gucci bags and Rolex watches sold on the sidewalk. (Not that they do that much, but they have focused on counterfeit goods before.) I suppose they would still need the support/encouragement of the trademark owner to start that.
NY courts have ruled it protected speech to dress up (or to partially UNdress, as a team of patriotically-colored ladies have proven over the last two summers) in the public right of way and also legal to accept tips for streetside performing or to outright panhandle on the public sidewalk. So the police do gave to wait until someone gives cause before doing something. (The NY Post has advocated that if the pedestrian plaza in Times Square were formally sectioned to be a designated city park then the city could regulate a permit procedure. Not sure if that may make things worse.)
But how do they know that the person wearing the costume didn’t buy it legally, and thus has a licence to wear it, just like all the little Spidermen and Rainbow Dashes going door to door on October 31, harnessing people in a shakedown for candy?
If they bought legitimate costumes, made under license, Disney couldn’t do much. If the costumes are not legitimate, then Disney can go after the seller, not the buyer.
But it is not like this is a worldwide problem.
This can never work because wearing a costume isn’t the same thing as selling merchandise.
I can beg, borrow, steal, or make my own costume and run around saying “Look at me, I’m Mickey Mouse,” and the only thing Disney could do is send me a cease and desist letter, assuming they could identify me and find my address. The “nuclear option” would be to file suit.
I’m sure most people are wise enough not to conflate random oddballs hustling in Disney costumes with that infamous company, nor to blame Disney.
I trust he wasn’t compensated in any way beyond a coffee whilst being consulted by them, otherwise that would seem as if councilcreatures and other representatives were able to be bought by corporations.
Not so sure about that. Especially when the infamous company in question is known for having costumed characters that roam around interacting with people. Not on just any street, of course, but I could see tourists saying “Oh, look at all the Disney characters. They must be promoting that Disney store around the corner.” And then it’s “Geez Myrtle, did you notice that Elmo smelled like a brewery? And since when does Elmo demand $20 for a picture?”
I wonder what would happen if the Times Square characters were hustling right in front of the Disney store. They don’t, as far as I know, but that would seem to press the issue even more.
This, I understand, is the issue. The cops can’t walk up to you and confiscate the Gucci handbag or Rolex you are wearing. (Unless they want to claim it’s proceeds of drug money, then you’ll have to hire a lawyer to get it back. )
There was some talk in the paper that the performers and panhandlers could be banned from parks, that’s why the Elmo infestation is significantly absent from the Ticket Booth triangle at the north end of Times Square (except along the sidewalk there). The talk was of making the whole of Times Square a park.
Also note the Naked Cowboy successfully sued M&M’s over trademark infringement for their Times Square videos portraying a “naked cowboy” M&M. OTOH, that was the reverse, a video commercial using an unauthorized trademark, not a person in costume doing their thing.
The usual trick (or the variant I saw passing by) was for several costumed folk to offer to pose, and one takes the camera so the whole family can be in the picture - then they were refusing to give the camera/cellphone back until sufficient funds were paid. Calling the cops is an option in that case.