The Intellectual Property Hunt for “Baby Yoda”

Streaming platforms have gained an insurmountable amount of popularity over the past decade. Among these streaming platforms, Netflix is by far the most popular.

Disney recently released its own streaming platform, though, Disney+, which gained a lot of traction – especially due to the release of “The Mandalorian.” This Star Wars show became an instant hit. One character in particular helped propel the show to an even larger audience. That was the introduction to, “the 50-year-old green infant whom fans have christened Baby Yoda.”

Instantly, “Baby Yoda” became a hit. “Since the character first appeared on Disney’s new streaming service, Baby Yoda has become hugely popular, launching countless memes and causing obsessed fans to scour the internet in search of merchandise.” However, fans cannot purchase an “official” Baby Yoda. As a result, individual hobbyists saw a niche in the market; they started crafting and selling merchandise featuring “Baby Yoda.”

Fast forward to today, and Disney is one of many companies struggling to protect its own intellectual property.  “Baby Yoda (like the terms ‘Star Wars,’ ‘The Mandalorian,’ and ‘Yoda’) is owned by Disney, and the company has the legal right to enforce its intellectual property and prevent others from profiting off its work.”  In an effort to combat the outbreak of vendors trying to sell merchandise featuring “Baby Yoda,” Disney issued waves of takedown notices on popular do-it-yourself (DIY) sales sites (such as Etsy).  Despite its efforts to curb DIY vendors from selling “Baby Yoda” products, Etsy searches for “Baby Yoda” still return nearly 18,000 results.

This raises questions. Why did Disney wait so long to create “Baby Yoda” products? And, what took Disney so long to begin issuing takedown notices to vendors?

In particular, “Disney put off fabricating replicas of the new character to protect the surprise when it [Baby Yoda] appeared on screen in the series’ first episode.”  However, it is one thing to “put off”, and another to vastly delay.  With “official” Disney “Baby Yoda” merchandise such as the plush toy not set to hit the market until June 1, 2020, there’s no second-guessing why fans are resorting to Etsy and similar DIY websites.

Despite Disney’s extreme delay in providing products to its fans, Disney has been working to curb the effects of intellectual property infringement.  The true problem stems from Etsy’s reliance upon the Safe Harbor provision to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).  The DMCA was enacted in October 28, 1998 by then-President Bill Clinton and was created to deal with the special challenges of regulating digital material.

Unfortunately for Disney, this requires Disney representatives to actively police Etsy for any cases of infringement. Taking into account that there are nearly 18,000 results stemming from a search for “Baby Yoda,” this could take Disney a long time. Additionally, Disney would have to account for vendors who use alias search terms such as, “The Baby Child,” “Baby Alien Plush Doll,” “The Child,” or “Baby Alien,” among others.

Although Disney may be one of many companies facing serious intellectual property infringement, the steps Disney is taking are the correct steps in an effort to better enforce strict intellectual property violations. Whether Disney will be the first to truly overcome intellectual property problems is still a question that remains to be answered.

The road ahead is long and is one that has been and is still being traveled quite often by companies facing such infringements. We can only hope the cracks in the road don’t become larger and hope that soon enough the road will be paved for future businesses facing these dire problems.

Sources:

https://www.wsj.com/articles/star-wars-fans-want-baby-yoda-diy-versions-are-their-only-hope-11576685175

https://www.theverge.com/2020/1/17/21069124/baby-yoda-dolls-etsy-disney-mandalorian-copyright-takedown-enforcement

https://www.theverge.com/2019/12/24/21036704/baby-yoda-plush-official-mandalorian-disney-2020-etsy-mattel-hasbro-funko-pop

https://nypost.com/2020/01/17/disney-appears-to-be-cracking-down-on-baby-yoda-knockoffs/

Cover Image:

https://knowyourmeme.com/photos/1671703-baby-yoda

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