American artists -- young and old, amateur and professional -- automatically own all legal rights (copyrights) to the original works they create. These works are referred to as the artist's Intellectual Property (IP.) No application for copyright of these works is necessary, because under US law copyright is automatically bestowed. Once an original idea has been expressed in a "fixed" form -- as a drawing, painting, recording, pattern, or just a scribble on a napkin -- copyright is automatic.


Disney/Pixar owns all copyrights to the original works Disney/Pixar artists create. A few examples of Disney/Pixar Intellectual Property that's protected by copyright law include:


  • Rapunzel (as she's digitally animated in Tangled)

  • Snow White (as she's drawn in the Disney classic)

  • Every Toy Story character (all of which were originated by Pixar both in concept and execution)

Does this mean you can't draw Snow White without breaking the laws protecting Disney copyrights? No, not at all! In fact, the Snow White story isn't even a Disney invention; it's an old German fairy tale, handed down over generations, and first published by The Brothers Grimm way back in 1812. You can draw, sew, or paint the character of Snow White any way you want. But if you create that Snow White character exactly as she was drawn by Disney artists (same facial features, red ribbon bow tying back short ebony hair, stiff white collar, puffy sleeves with red teardrop inserts, etc.) and then try to sell your Snow White creation -- "sell" is the important part! -- you are violating US copyright law.


And that law is clear. Summed up, it says:

  • A person may not sell -- may not earn income from -- a product that replicates ("copies"), or is closely derived from, the Intellectual Property belonging to another person, unless permission to do so is explicitly granted


Permission is usually granted via Licensing Agreement, which is a legally binding contract between the owner of a particular Intellectual Property and the person seeking to use it.


Disney/Pixar itself pays to license Intellectual Property. Pixar paid to license Barbie, Mr. Potatohead, and the Fisher Price Chatter Telephone for use in Toy Story 3. They weren't able to license G.I. Joe; that's why Combat Carl is the military character, instead. (To read more about how Pixar secured the right to feature brand names in Toy Story films, click here. Note that Mr. Potatohead has his own lawyer, exclusively dedicated to his licensing!)


In theory, any person can license the rights to reproduce Disney/Pixar IP in their works, assuming Disney/Pixar agrees to such use. Unfortunately, that's waaaaaay too expensive for indie small shop owners like me.


What all the above boils down to, is this: For both ethical and legal reasons, Imaginearz may reference, but will never knowingly replicate ("copy"), Disney/Pixar (or any other artist's) Intellectual Property. This policy honors both artists and the law, and reflects my lifelong commitment to creating with integrity. 


There's good news for a Disney/Pixar-inspired small business like Imaginearz, though. A big, open, general idea like "mouse ears" can't be copyrighted, because such a broad concept isn't "fixed." "Mouse ears" describes an item that can be created in literally infinite numbers of ways. Color palettes and combinations of (non-copyrighted) design elements can't be copyright either, even when they bring a character, movie, park, food, costume, event, or attraction to mind. 

Imaginearz do sometimes contain purchased fabric(s) featuring copyrighted characters, but that's okay. The First Sale Doctrine states that it's legal to sell items made from copyrighted fabrics, once those fabrics have been purchased, when the fabric design 1) is not claimed as an original work, and 2) has not been reproduced.