UPDATED: Sep 30, 2022
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I’m trying to find out the following for
A can I name items on my menu after
popular characters, provided that they
do not depict the characters, only their
names. For example, some name
ideas are Ariel, Elsa, Belle, Alice in
B can I use the names of fairy tales
and stories in the decorations and
decor of the restaurant. Blatantly use
and display phrases similar to ‘Belle
was in love with the Beast to remind us
that…’ Or ‘Snow White was given a
poison apple to…’
C can I legally display in the decor of
my business shadows/cutouts of
characters described above, mind you I
am not using the character, only the
shadow of cutout of the character..and
if not where is the line drawn at? Most
of the stories themselves are in the
public domain, but Disney has made
them so popular, at the least depicting
general princesses, frogs, mermaids,
etc I believe would be fine. Correct?
Asked on August 25, 2016 under Business Law, Colorado
SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney
Answered 6 years ago | Contributor
Your last line of your question is actually the answer to the question: you can use names from public domain stories or myths, even if they have been later turned into Disney stories, and you can use pictures or silhoutes of generic examples of those characters--a generic mermaid, a generic princess, etc. What you *can't* do is use any images recognizable as the Disney characters (or use any characters which *only* appeared in Disney movies, like Mulan). To use a comic book example: everyone is familiar with Marvel's "Thor," and no one else can depict a blond Thor holding Marvel's version of Mjolnir. BUT Thor the myth long predates Marvel, and a number of comic book companies (e.g. Image, Comico) have used Thor as a superhero (or villian) without problem, by either basing him more closely on the myth (red hair, beard, more viking looking) or coming up with their own entirely new version (ginger-haired Englishman). Similarly, so long as you don't use the Disney version of a storybook character, you should be fine.
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