Even Disney’s Lawyers Can’t Stop an Army of Bootleg Baby Yodas
When Disney intentionally delayed making Baby Yoda merchandise in order to keep the character’s existence a secret, artists and opportunists filled the gap with crochet plushies, T-shirts, Christmas ornaments, and self-referential coffee mugs. When Disney finally came out with official Baby Yoda swag, it was widely criticized for looking rushed, because, well, it was. But if you’re unhappy with what the Mouse has to offer, there are plenty of online stores with every kind of Baby Yoda merchandise you could want, just in time for the holidays.
Some brands have embraced this sort of fan art. TeePublic, which sells shirts featuring user-submitted designs, has a fan art partner program that allows independent artists to sell fan art without violating copyright on select partnership brands. Other companies, like video game maker EA, offer fan kits that help artists create sanctioned artwork without stepping on their business interests. As Glynn S. Lunney Jr., a law professor at Texas A&M University, explains, sometimes it’s in a company’s best interest not to enforce copyright law to the letter. “Because it’s an avid fan base that’s doing it and they don’t want to alienate their fans, they choose not to enforce the full scope of both copyright and trademark rights,” he tells OneZero. “Particularly if it’s small scale in terms of commercial dollars.”
Disney, on the other hand, is notorious for fiercely protecting its intellectual property. It successfully lobbied Congress to extend copyright terms and keep Mickey Mouse — who was created more than 90 years ago — out of the public domain. Twice. And cooperation with fan artists doesn’t appear to be the reason for an abundance of unofficial Baby Yoda merch. The more likely explanation is that Disney just can’t keep up — and Etsy isn’t incentivized to do much to help the corporation enforce its copyright or trademarks.
“It could have been an excellent opportunity for Disney to embrace fan artists as consumers waited for official merchandise,” said one independent artist who spoke to OneZero and asked to remain anonymous to avoid risking takedowns of their work. Instead, shortly after creating some unofficial Baby Yoda merchandise — and less than a month after the…