Almost a year ago, I wrote about my modest success selling t-shirt designs on Zazzle.com that artfully depict the Disney World monorail announcer’s characteristic Por favor mantÃ©ngase alejado de las puertas.
In that piece, I also drew attention to the ways products like this exert fandom by commercially exploiting holes in a property owner’s own productization of itself.
What I didn’t report was this: some months after I originally wrote about my designs, the pink “Fantasyland” version of these shirts got pulled from Zazzle due to a copyright infringement claim from Disney. What’s most fascinating about this action is not that it took place, but that the target of the complaint was limited to that one design. My “Epcot” design continued to sell without incident. After all, both designs depict the monorail and the phrase, so if there’s a problem with one, why isn’t there a problem with the other?
At the time, I was simply too busy to put much time into determining why this was the case. In recent weeks, I finally got around to contacting Zazzle’s content management group, who were most helpful and prompt in answering my request for additional information. Here’s what they said:
The Disney castle concept is the protected intellectual property of Disney Inc. and may not be used on Zazzle products without permission, regardless of who the original artist or photographer may be. We are sorry for any inconveniences this may have caused.
Fascinating, isn’t it? It’s not the monorail or the text that Disney perceived as infringement, but the castle! Could that really be true? I decided to test it out by making a new version of the shirt, exactly the same in every way, but with the castle removed. I was able to order it without incident, and now you can too.
You might wonder along with me if Disney really believes that it owns the concept of the castle, especially since Cinderella Castle was modeled after the Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria. I suspect it’s the combination of elements that make them snarl. I’d guess that a shirt with no mention or implication of Disney that depicted an abstract castle of the same design would never set off any filters or flags. Perhaps I’ll try that too, just for kicks.