Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Can we use a Disney dress in indy flick?

Dear Rich: I made a low low budget indie feature film (not completed yet). In the film, a girl wears a Disney princess dress a lot. My costume person erased the princess's face from the buttons, but didn't change anything else. Even if this dress isn't as well known as the Snow White dress, Disney people (and kids who love princesses) could perhaps tell that this is a dress purchased at a Disney store. Will I have to get a permission to use the dress, or, can I still use it without contacting Disney because the princess face is erased?  The short answer is that if the only connection to Disney is the dress, you're probably okay. Despite valiant attempts by the fashion industry to achieve protection, clothing (a useful object) isn't protected under copyright law. However, a costume -- for example, the Batman rig -- may be protected under copyright and trademark law because it has a sufficiently unique combination of decorative elements, or it directly conjures up the copyrighted character.  
Not likely to be an issue for you. But if the only use in the movie is as wardrobe for a character with no connection to Disney, it shouldn't be an issue. Removing the buttons was a good idea and should demonstrate your good faith in avoiding any connection with Disney (unless someone takes the cock-eyed view that you're removing copyright and trademark notices!). The only other potential for problem would be if you had entered into some license agreement, for example, if you bought directly from Disney and they made you use a click-through agreement that prohibits displaying the dress in commercial motion pictures ... a legal theory which sounds remarkably far-fetched as we write it.
Also, we're confused. We've been googling Princess dress ads (please Google, don't track that in our search history) and we can't tell for sure whether "Princess" refers to a line/brand of Disney dresses or to a specific princess/character? For example, the dress shown above is billed as "Disney Princess Role-Play Dress" but it has a picture of Sleeping Beauty on the tag, (so what is the role being "played"?). If the reference is to a line of dresses, the Dear Rich Staff believes that wearing one is probably even less of an issue for your movie.