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Star Wars: The Rise of Copy Merchandise

Sci-fi fans are eagerly awaiting the release of the latest instalment in the Star Wars saga on Thursday night. With the release of any eagerly awaited film, particularly in a series such as Star Wars, comes a slew of official merchandise which can be just as valuable as the box office receipts taken from the actual film.

Equally certain however will be the substantial amount of copy merchandise which will make its way to the market. For this latest Star Wars film much of this copy merchandise has focused on what is, for fans, the eagerly awaited new character of Baby Yoda. Disney normally releases merchandise slightly ahead of a film release but on this occasion,  they had delayed making Baby Yoda merchandise in an unsuccessful attempt to try to keep the existence of the character a secret. This allowed others to try and fill the gap with the release of merchandise such as Christmas ornaments and t-shirts featuring Baby Yoda.

Disney is famously aggressive in protecting its intellectual property, but exactly what can they rely on to combat the copyists in this instance?

If Disney were to hold trade marks for the name ‘Baby Yoda’ they would be able to use those trade marks to secure the removal from sale of any merchandise which used or incorporated that trade mark. This avenue would not however be open to Disney if the mark has not been registered or if the copy merchandise relied on likeness rather than use of the name. In such an instance Disney would be relying on copyright.

Copyright protects the expression of an idea, not the idea itself. This means that characters such as Baby Yoda could be eligible to be protected by copyright, but that protection would only extend as far as the depiction of the character within the film as this would be Disney’s expression of the idea of a Baby Yoda character.

Disney is indeed seeking to rely on its copyright to secure the removal from sale of copy Baby Yoda merchandise and it is being successful where it encounters this. The main issue they face is that they are playing catch up and even a company as aggressive as Disney in its litigation strategy may struggle to get fully on top of the issue. This demonstrates the importance, even for major brands of having a proactive brand protection strategy in place. Having such a proactive strategy in place will ensure that the force is with you when you encounter any copying issues.

If you have any Intellectual Property enquires please contact Adam Turley on 01228 552600.

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