Some Etsy shoppers in New Jersey may have noticed Baby Yoda merchandise on the site and wondered whether the sellers were within legal bounds. In fact, Disney would probably be within its rights to pursue the creators for intellectual property infringement, but the company has chosen to take a different approach.
Disney has been aggressive about pursuing cases of IP infringement in the past, and shortly after the first episode of “The Mandalorian” was shown, GIFs of Baby Yoda appeared on the site Giphy. Although these types of GIFs are likely to fall under fair use since they are satirical and do not harm Disney’s income, Giphy played it safe and pulled the images. A few days later, they were back up with an explanation from the company saying that they had wanted to review the situation.
Disney apparently decided that a better response would be to release their own merchandise. The company is cautious about when this happens because, in the past, merchandise releases that have happened too early have contained spoilers. The company had originally said there would not be any Baby Yoda merchandise on the market until 2020, but it has changed the release date so people can purchase it for Christmas. Companies often have to make decisions about the best response to IP infringements, and it is not always a lawsuit.
However, Disney had the luxury to make this decision because it did not perceive that it was genuinely hurt by any of the IP infringements. Protecting IP, which includes trademarks, copyrights, trade secrets and patents can be critical for a company’s success and survival. There may be both civil and criminal penalties for some types of IP infringement. Some IP cases can be settled by simply asking the violator to stop while others may involve intellectual property litigation.