July 11, 2008 | | Comments 12

Disney Sues Small Family Business: Whose Side Are You On?

I would imagine that David and Marisol Chaveco, a Clermont, Florida couple who own a small party business, never thought they’d be famous, at least not in this manner. Nevertheless, it is national news now that the Walt Disney Company is suing the couple for trademark infringement. Disney is seeking $1 million in damages.

The infringement lies in the fact that the couple bought two costumes from a Peruvian company on eBay which resemble the Disney characters Tigger and Eyeore and were advertising the availability of the characters for parties on their business web site. Because Disney aggressively protects all their trademarks and intellectual property, the company’s lawyers were quick to act.

Fale Tigger and Eyeore CostumesThey sent the family three letters demanding seven items, one of them being that the couple send the costumes to Disney so they could be destroyed. The family complied with all Disney’s requests with the exception of the costumes which they sent back to the Peruvian company for a refund.

Now Disney is suing for $1 million plus legal costs.

Opinions on this are split on this story with one side crying foul on Disney, who is viewed as a giant corporation picking on a small mom and pop business, while others are saying that they family knew exactly what they were doing and deserve to be sued.

The couple attempted to defend themselves with the following statements:

“Disney wasn’t even in our thoughts – period, I mean if we would’ve thought that any of this was even possible we wouldn’t have bought the costumes,” said David Chaveco.

“We honestly saw them as an orange tiger and blue donkey we didn’t see it as we weren’t trying to impersonate anything,” said Marisol Chaveco.

Sorry — I don’t buy it. In fact I’d love to see the original eBay ad as to whether these costumes were in fact advertised as “Tigger and Eyeore” characters. Add to the fact that they are about 15 minutes away from Walt Disney World in Orlando and it is difficult to accept their defense.

What they should have done is to COMPLETELY comply with ALL of Disney’s demands and there would be no lawsuit. Instead they decided to recoup their investment of $500 plus shipping that they had paid for the costumes by returning them. Now they face much greater losses.

While Disney officials in Florida declined to comment Wednesday, saying “the lawsuit spoke for itself,” The Orlando Sentinel sums up Disney’s position very well.

Disney’s lawsuit contends it has the right to “combat willful and intentional infringement of its copyrighted properties” to prevent misuse of its characters. The company says it has, in the past, received complaints about unauthorized use of its characters.

Without firm licensing agreements, the company noted, it “cannot control the quality and nature of the performance, the quality of the costumes, [or] the quality and background of the individuals providing the performance . . . “

So, is this a case of the big bad corporation picking on the little guy or rather a company that has worked very hard to create and protect its intellectual property simply defending its rights?

Even though I typically hate the legal bullying of large corporations, I have to side on Disney on this one. I believe the couple knew what they were doing but simply miscalculated that Disney would discover their use of the costumes as well as react this way.

What about you, the reader? Whose side are you on? I’d love to hear feedback in the comments section of this post.

Photo credits: MyFox Atlanta

Entry Information

Filed Under: Disney Company News


About the Author: Every since my first trip to Disneyland in 1977, I have been a Disney fanatic. Disney-O-Rama allows me to share news and current happenings as well as many of the secrets and history behind the magic. Follow +David Wallace on Google +.

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  1. I’m with you on this one, Dave. Of course I’m sure that even returning the suits to Disney will not mean any less of these fake suits in other countries. However it seems pretty blatant on the part of the couple and they can’t expect to get out of this without penalty.

  2. Balderdash! The items were legally purchased and belonged to the purchasers, Disney has no right to demand that these folks turn over anything. Continuing legal action after the performances were stopped is both malicious and unreasonable. The judge should not only toss this case on it’s ear and he should award the defendants legal fee’s for their trouble.

    In reality Disney has no right to prohibit these people from performing in outfits which they desire. If anyone infringed on Disney’s rights, it was the folks that produced the costumes.

  3. I agree. I can’t imagine you can live in Florida and not think of Disney. I also agree that the couple would have been best served to comply with all of Disney’s demands and they can’t expect to get out of this without penalty. At the same time, a million dollars sounds extreme to me.

  4. I’m with Disney on this one. They are the IP holders and have the right to protect their IP. If they let a few get away here and there then they tarnish the brand and the brand loses its appeal. In a former life I used to be a IP Investigator and Disney was a client. We would seize counterfeit items from the most unsuspecting places where small businesses would think that they could make a profit making images or products in Disney Character’s image. In many times, these product were of defective or poor quality or not fire retardant. If an accident were to occur with a child being burned to death while wearing a Tigger costume, who do you think would get sued first?

    Disney needed the original costumes in order to launch an investigation to identify the manufacturer to cut off this hazard at the source and by not complying, this couple limited those chances of getting inferior product off of the street.

    Disney has every right to protect their brand, image and quality of their vendors and merchandise and to send a message to deter this type of activity from occurring in the future.

  5. I think asking a court for a million bucks far surpasses the damage to Disney in this case.

    I don’t question Disney’s right to defend its intellectual property, but have they really been damaged to the tune of a million bucks over 2 costumes that were taken off the market???? Where’s the damage?

  6. I don’t buy their defense that they didn’t know they were imitating Disney characters. That’s just bull. But since they complied with all of Disney’s requests, except for sending in the costumes, the matter should be dropped. Disney has no right to request the destruction of those costumes.

  7. @Stoney – Actually under trademark laws, I believe they do have a right to demand the costumes so they can destroy them.

  8. It is very obvious that a lot of the people who are on Disneys side have not gone to any party rental place where they also have characters for shows. ALL OF THESE BUSSINESSES HAVE DISNEY CHARACTERS so this being the case then Disney should start suing every bussiness out there. It’s another way for the rich to get richer and the poor to get poorer.

  9. These items were not legally purchased. It is against the law for these items to be shipped into the united states. They are counterfit and cannot be sold here. As for them not hurting anyone these type of practices hurt all small buisnesses not just disney. These companies steal characters not just from large companies like disney bu small buisnesses as well. They sell them at half the cost and with cheaper materials. The US company then pays the price by the loss of revenue and the buyer that will not return because of the terrible product. Take a look at ebay. Most of the major sellers of Mascot costumes are based out of China or Peru and all items are stolen concepts. Ebay should remove these copmanies and be held accountable.

  10. Disney is in the wrong to continue, the family ceased and desisted using the costumes and Disney was not materially hurt. Disney should be going after E-Bay and/or the seller of the products to stop their illegal sale. The family stopped using the legally purchased items once they found out that the products were infringing on Disney’s copyright.

  11. I’m on the little guy’s side on this one, I can’t believe a millionare corporation like Disney would try so hard to step on the little guy here. A million dollars is chump change to Disney, but for a small family business as this one it’s probably 20 years worth of earnings. I find Disney is being completelly unreasonable, if the costumes are no longer being used and it’s obvious the small company lost a lot of business, why not leave it there? In the past I go to Disney at least twice a year with my whole family, and you can imagine all the Disney memorabilia in my kid’s rooms, but I am seriously considering never spending a dollar on anything Disney related ever again.

  12. If Walt Disney were alive, do you really think he would make a low-income family go bankrupt?… I think not. DISNEY IS NOT THE SAME COMPANY IT USED TO BE!

    Disney shows and movies make an effort to show positive content and this class-act law sue proves that Disney definitely lost their company morals.

    Disney might think that this is just another file being processed, but to the whole world, it shows what disregard they have for “real values”…

    They might as well make a movie called “How to take food from a deadbeat”

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