Disney Claims “Star Wars” Fans Violate Copyright Law

December 14, 2015

broken copyright symbolAs the most recent episode of the “Star Wars” franchise is released, the Disney company is aggressively asserting its rights associated with the characters incorporated into the new film.  This effort includes what seems to be an ill-advised copyright law attack against “Star Wars Action News,” a podcast and related social media platform that highlights information of interest to the “Star Wars” community.  Disney’s campaign illustrates the ways in which overly zealous assertion of intellectual property rights can be counterproductive.

Marjorie and Arnie Carvalho publish “Star Wars Action News.”  One of their reporters recently purchased an action figure for the character, “Rey”, from the new movie.  Apparently, the action figure was prematurely released by the store in Iowa where the purchase was made.  The action figures were reportedly not to be released until closer to the actual movie launch date.

The reporter took photos of the action figure, and posted the photos on the “Star Wars Action News” Facebook page.  When Disney became aware of the posting of the photos, it submitted a Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) copyright infringement claim with Facebook.  Facebook then reportedly removed the photos from the “Star Wars Action News” page.

Matsuura Blakeley BannerMarjorie Caravalho then contacted Disney through electronic mail, and explained the situation.  Based on that explanation, Disney reportedly contacted Facebook and retracted the DMCA claim.  It seemed that the issue had been resolved.

Shortly thereafter however, Disney reportedly submitted a new DMCA notice.  Based on this second claim, Facebook again removed the photographs from the page.  In addition, as a result of the second Disney claim, Facebook reportedly also deleted the text “Star Wars Action News” had posted along with the photos.

It is unclear why Disney renewed the claim after apparently accepting Caravalho’s explanation and retracting the original notice.  It is also unclear why, based on the second claim, Facebook deleted some of the text associated with the photos, in addition to the photos themselves.  Finally, it is uncertain why Disney continues to pursue “Star Wars Action News” on this matter when there are reportedly multiple other instances where other parties have posted photographs of action figures from the film.

Some observers speculate that perhaps the Disney online copyright enforcement system is too reliant on automated, software-controlled processes, and is thus unable to manage specific exempted uses of the materials it tracks.  Whatever the reasons, it seems that Disney’s copyright enforcement process is, in effect, harassing the “Star Wars Action News” in this particular instance.

It seems clear that publication of the photographs of the action figure constitute fair use.  The figure was purchased legally, and “Star Wars Action News” has the right to take photographs of the figure and to publish those photographs.  Disney’s efforts to block such publication are inappropriate.

Disney’s actions in this case are also likely to be counterproductive.  This very public dispute in which the company is now engaged pits it against a loyal and active community of “Star Wars” fans.  Instead of treating those fans as adversaries, the company should welcome their interest and activism, and should enlist their support as the new film and associated merchandise are launched.