Monday, March 18, 2013

Wants to Make Sexy Snow White

Dear Rich: I am planning to publish a book on Snow White and the 7 Dwarves that will be, shall we say, salacious in nature. I read Disney created a trademark for Snow White in 2010 but that it won't apply to written works. Even if their trademark did apply to written works, could I still publish my book? Or would it be considered a parody of sorts? Or, should I simply change all the characters' names (of course, readers would know who I was referring to all along)? Would that protect me from Disney's wrath? If not, do you have any ideas how to protect myself? Disney sought to register a trademark for SNOW WHITE in 2008. The application was for the exclusive right to use the slumbering superstar's name in connection with movies. The USPTO approved the application in April, 2010, but Disney never completed the registration process and as far as we can tell, the registration remains in hibernation awaiting that awakening kiss from Disney's legal staff. That doesn't mean Disney is backing off its IP chivalry, it just means it hasn't completed the process. You are correct in that none of the registrations filed by Disney are for printed matter (although the company does own rights to Sleeping Beauty bed linen -- clever, huh?). By the way, for the whole story of Disney's plunder of the public domain, check out this letter to European IP HQ.)
Right you had a question.  Legally, you're in the clear to create a book involving lubricants, handcuffs, and latex dwarf costumes, provided it's not based on or does not borrow from the Disney movie. You should probably include a disclaimer on the book stating that it is loosely based upon the original Grimm story and that is not affiliated with any entity that claims trademark rights to Snow White ... and of course avoid using the names popularized for the dwarves and which were created by Disney. Finally, you should avoid any visual reference to Disney characters, parody or not. Even if you do all this, that doesn't mean you won't get scary letters from Disney lawyers ... but your legal position should be fortified.
P.S. Here's a film that was made despite Disney trademark claims. Check out the director's response to a question about copyright and trademark.

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