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IP rights and the use of Baby Yoda images

On Behalf of | Dec 19, 2019 | Intellectual Property

Fans of “The Mandalorian” in the United States may have seen a recent surge of Baby Yoda GIFs being shared online and Baby Yoda Christmas merchandise sold on Etsy. Disney, who owns intellectual property rights to Baby Yoda, could have pursued the individuals and companies responsible for the trending products on the grounds of intellectual property infringement. However, Disney appears to have declined to pursue charges, deciding that an opposite approach is better in this scenario.

In the past, Disney has not been hesitant to address such infringements. In fact, Disney originally insisted that Baby Yoda merchandise would have to wait until 2020. Disney’s history with confronting intellectual property infringement is probably one of the reasons why Giphy, a popular GIF website, initially pulled the first Baby Yoda GIFs that appeared on their site. After a few days, the GIFs reappeared alongside a statement from Giphy that the company had wanted to review the situation before permitting them back on the site for worldwide sharing. It is likely that the GIFs would have been considered protected under fair use because the GIF creators were not making a profit, the GIFs did not infringe upon Disney’s income, and the GIFs were likely used for a satirical purpose. However, because of Disney’s big name and ready legal team, it is understandable that Giphy wanted to be extra cautious.

Although Disney was originally set to release Baby Yoda toys and products throughout 2020, there is already an online black market of Baby Yoda goods on the popular crafts website Etsy. In terms of Baby Yoda Christmas merchandise, the company evidently reached a decision that pursuing the creators for infringement would be less cost effective in terms of public relations than simply allowing the merchandise to be sold. Disney’s response to the Baby Yoda black market is to expedite its own release of merchandise in time for the holidays. The company is extremely cautious about when merchandise is rolled out because past merchandise releases have spoiled story lines.

An intellectual property dispute can mean that copyright, trade secrets, trademarks, patents and or other types of IP have been violated. An attorney may be able to assist an individual or company in protecting these rights. For some types of IP, this may begin with registration. In other scenarios, companies or individuals may find themselves in disputes regarding a trademark they have used for some time that is now being challenged. An attorney may also be able to help settle these disputes out of court.