Disney is losing its lawsuit against Characters for Hire, a company that sends out adults dressed as famous Disney characters for children's birthday parties that include Darth Vader, Iron Man, Elsa, Chewbacca, and many others. Disney is attempting to make it really hard for kids to have some of their favorite characters show up for a birthday party and a New York judge doesn't believe that the studio has enough evidence. Disney is now at a crossroads and has to decide about carrying the lawsuit any further.
Earlier this week, a New York federal judge refused to grant summary judgment in favor of Disney in their lawsuit against Characters for Hire, a company run by Nick Sarelli. The summary judgment would have allowed the studio to continue the battle in court without a trial, which could have been a major win for Disney. The studio alleges that Sarelli's business of using "knock-off" costumes is purposely confusing people who utilize their service, which is "built upon the infringement of Plaintiffs' highly valuable intellectual property rights."
The Judge recognizes that there is some similarity, but a quick look at the Characters for Hire website does not have any of the real names for the characters. If you want Chewbacca to show up at your five-year old's birthday party, you simply order the "Big Hairy Guy" from the site. What about Princess Leia? You would just need to order "The Princess." None of the actual licensed names of the characters are used on the site. However, the legal team for Disney has presented screenshots of reviews of the services offered where customers use the real names, which they are trying to use as the evidence that they needed to continue without a costly trial.
When looking at the customer reviews on the Characters for Hire website, the judge sided with Nick Sarelli and his lawyers. Going off of Disney's original complaint that the company is purposefully confusing consumers and damaging the studio's brand, the judge ruled that there is no evidence to suggest that. The New York federal judge also said that Disney does not have any statistical evidence to back up their claims. He had this to say.
"None of the customer reviews suggest the slightest sign of confusion as to the origin, source, affiliation, or sponsorship of CHF's services, much less confusion likely to produce a diversion of sales, damage to goodwill, or loss of control over reputation. Plaintiffs also fail to offer statistical surveys showing any instances of consumer confusion despite CFH providing character-for-hire services using Plaintiffs' trademarked characters since at least 2012."
Characters for Hire has won a pretty big battle in the war against Disney, but there's still a long way to go. Should Disney decide to carry on with the trial, it will be very expensive for all parties involved, so unless a settlement is reached, it looks like the battle with continue since the studio doesn't really have to worry about money. If the lawsuit goes to trial, the implications could be huge for companies that run similar businesses all the way to the men and women who dress like the popular characters in Hollywood and New York City. You can read more about Disney trying to take the fun out of children's birthday parties over at The Hollywood Reporter.