Using Disney toys as props in film

'Is it legal', 'can I do this' type questions and discussions.
Post Reply
beegeefilm
New Member
New  Member
Posts: 2
Joined: Mon Dec 12, 2016 11:55 am

Using Disney toys as props in film

Post by beegeefilm » Mon Dec 12, 2016 12:04 pm

Hi. I'm a UK-based filmmaker currently developing a short film for film festival distribution. The story as is features a young girl who's a little bit lost in the world, and we considered the idea of her owning an action figure of Rey from Star Wars: The Force Awakens, a character she looks up to for her independence and hero qualities.

Simply, the film would involve reference to the character and her qualities, and the toy on screen in the hands of our little girl. At one point it gets broken and is repaired with a bit of glue by the nice old man who is the main character. It would be fair to say that it is an explicit plot device rather than just a toy that happens to be seen in shot.

The impression I get is that this would not infringe any specific copyright (trademarks, scripted elements of the original film etc.), but I'd be grateful for any pointers and suggestions of appropriate action over any possible issues.

Many thanks - Simon.

User avatar
AndyJ
Oracle
Oracle
Posts: 1942
Joined: Fri Jan 29, 2010 12:43 am

Post by AndyJ » Mon Dec 12, 2016 3:28 pm

Hi Simon,

As you mention, there are no real copyright issues with what you propose: using an authorised version of the doll manufactured under licence would not involve copying, and since no elements of any Star Wars story are being copied, that just leaves the character of Rey herself. From what you have described, the Rey doll appears to be entirely passive and thus has no character traits per se in your film. Clearly your story relies on the little girl being aware of Rey's character as portrayed in the film, but I don't think UK copyright law would go so far as to say this was copying a substantial part of the Disney film and, on its own, this would not amount to copyright infringement. In the USA things might be different as fictional characters are much more protected under US jurisprudence, although it is likely that the US doctrine of Fair Use would probably balance this out. If your film was shown at a festival in the USA, that would establish grounds for bringing a case there.

I am less sanguine about the trade mark aspects. According to <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rey_(Star ... ce_Awakens"> Wikipedia</a> the Rey character appears in a number of spin-off merchandising ventures, which have presumably been licensed by Disney/Lucasfilm. So even though the name does not appear to have been registered as a UK/European trade mark, there is a very real possibility that Disney could decide to pursue a passing-off claim over your use of the character.

Disney and Lucasfilm both have a deserved reputation for aggressively protecting their intellectual property. On this basis I think you can expect to hear from their legal department once they become aware of your film if you do decide to use the Rey doll. I think Disney can easily establish goodwill exists in the Star Wars films and characters, and so it is but a short step to show that using the Rey doll in an unauthorised film, could cause damage to that goodwill and thus this might amount to passing off. The main weakness of such a claim would lie in Disney being able to establish misrepresentation. This doesn't involve you doing anything underhand, just that a person viewing your film might be led to believe that due to the presence of the Rey character, your film was somehow connected with the Star Wars franchise.

Because this could have serious consequences, I suggest you speak to a solicitor who specialises in IP matters about this, before heading too far down this particular track. You can find one near you via the Law Society website and searching under 'Business - Media, IT and Intellectual Property'
Advice or comment provided here is not and does not purport to be legal advice as defined by s.12 of Legal Services Act 2007

beegeefilm
New Member
New  Member
Posts: 2
Joined: Mon Dec 12, 2016 11:55 am

Fair enough!

Post by beegeefilm » Mon Dec 12, 2016 4:19 pm

Andy,

Many thanks. That's pretty much in keeping with what I thought, and I'm fairly sure that there wouldn't be any case to answer, but that nonetheless it's worth being cautious about (sadly, as with all these things, issue or no it can become one just because they choose to intervene!) I think if and when we have funding in place a chunk of that will be allocated to legal fees!

Post Reply