Characters from the Disney Franchise are an extremely popular option for enamel lapel pins. This, of course, raises the question of the legality of using Disney images to create enamel pins. The Disney Group is very serious about trademark infringement and has copyright and intellectual property (IP) registrations to protect the characters.
Walt Disney and the Disney Group have produced a series of beloved and memorable characters in modern culture that are considered IP. As such, using Disney images to make enamel lapel pins in not legal unless you follow the requirements the company has set to avoid infringing on its IP rights.
When making enamel pins (particularly for-profit purposes), it can be very difficult to know which characters are copyrighted and which ones aren’t. Adding to this is the concern that Disney may come after you for using one of their images in your products.
A copyright is there to protect original works, while trademarks protect brand names. Copyright lasts for the entire life of the creator plus 70 years. Therefore, only Disney has exclusive rights to its imagery and their likeness that include:
If you seek to legally use the characters and imagery from the Disney franchise to make enamel pins, there are some very difficult hoops that you have to jump through. The first way involves getting permission from the Disney Enterprises.
A number of corporate entities tied to Disney have ownership of the IP rights to Disney Characters and Imagery. You can visit the official Disney website to determine the entities that own the rights to the images you wish to use. The website also provides directions on how you can get permission to use the images legally.
If you are lucky, you will receive permission to use their IP in the form of an email or a letter. Disney may require you to commit to a licensing agreement if you intend to make commercial use of its characters. This agreement requires you to pay Disney for the rights to use in imagery on your enamel pins.
Disney can also refuse to grant you the rights to use its images, which is most often the case. There is a very slim chance that Disney will give you permission to use its imagery. There are some organizations that have had success with this such as The Mouse Merch Box, Cake Worthy and Danielle Nicole Handbags.
In the case of The Mouse Merch Box, Disney approached the shop rather than the other way around. Note that, this is a very rare occurrence. The hard truth is that most shops will be unsuccessful in asking for permission to use Disney images.
You can use Disney Imagery to make enamel lapel pins and claim that your products are “inspired by” Disney. This claim may be true, but it doesn’t mean that Disney cannot send you a cease-and-desist notice. For the most part, Disney can sue you if you use an image created by the company (although this is not a blanket statement).
Including “inspired by” in your products won’t keep you safe. A safe approach is creating enamel pins that are “inspired by” but not a copy of any Disney Imagery. For instance, you can create a blue and white Cinderella enamel pin with mice at the bottom.
However, you cannot use the Disney version of Cinderella on the label. Also, the included mice cannot be Gus-Gus and Jack (the Disney versions).
To avoid issues with Disney, many times, you will have to use common sense. You have to figure out if your creation is over the line (copyright wise). To stay on the safe side, you can use Disney Themes on your enamel pins without using explicitly Disney images.
If you want to legally make enamel pins based on Disney themes without getting into trouble, you can get a bit of inspiration online. To get safe images for this purpose, simply search “public domain images of Disney Stories”. An interesting aspect about this is that in 2024, Mickey Mouse is set to leave copyright protection.
This means that the imagery will be in the public domain. There is a caveat though. Only the older versions of Mickey Mouse will be available for public use (not the current colorful character you are used to). Following expiration, you can legally use the older versions of Mickey Mouse for your enamel lapel pins.
It is very well known that there is considerable copyright infringement in the enamel pin community. Disney has never officially stated the reasons, so many people get away with using their IP. This can change at any moment.
It probably has something to do with the cost and logistics of following up on every copyright infringement case. The company does go after vendors that may be taking a very large portion of their revenue away.
The larger the number of enamel pin makers that infringe on copyright and more revenue created from the practice; the more Disney would be incentivized to hunt down the infringers. Sometimes, Disney does go after the smaller shops that violate the company’s copyright.
If you use Disney images illegally to make enamel lapel pins, there are two things that can likely happen. Disney may send you a cease-and-desist letter or sue your outright for copyright infringement.
Note that, Disney may send a cease-and-desist letter if your venture is large enough to be eating some of Disney’s sales. This means that if you have a venture with thousands of sales from products using Disney Imagery, Disney may come after you with a cease- and- desist.
The letter is essentially a threat that the company may take legal action if you continue using their IP illegally. Disney will periodically conduct a sweep on the major online shops. Disney may decide to take legal action and sue you for using their imagery illegally. However, this is a very rare occurrence. Disney may take this action against large established organizations who through infringement, take away size-able portions of the company’s revenue.