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A Frozen Winter's Tale

12 February 2015

Whilst the weather outside is frightful, inevitably many an evening is spent engaging in indoor activities, such as watching movies. This Christmas marked the release of Disney’s Frozen on Sky Movies, presenting those few who missed it in the cinema, and on its Blu-ray release, with an opportunity to watch it.

Frozen is, believe it or not, the highest grossing animated film of all time, registering both the most Blu-ray/DVD sales as well as the most digital download sales of any movie ever. Add to this the soundtrack as well as merchandising, and you can quickly see how valuable “Brand Frozen” is to Disney. It might also be the first time a director has apologised to parents for a song, with Let it Go being so popular that parents are tiring of hearing it.

Disney registered trade marks covering a variety of merchandise and this foresight has proven invaluable; as recently as 10 January 2015 yet another shipment of counterfeit merchandise was seized. Success attracts competition and Disney is currently defending infringement claims by other authors, but what about the intellectual property (“IP”) owned by Disney (and/or others) that applies day by day to you and me?

Following recent trends, there is a forest of videos on YouTube (and other platforms) with people recording their own versions of the Frozen songs. The “Frozen party” is now a defined and understood term, with people dressing up as characters from the show. In some cases, companies offer such services and, in at least one case, that has been reported in the newspapers, they are doing so without Disney’s permission.

Most people now know, thanks to education by the film industry, that lending the CD of a soundtrack to a friend to “rip” to their iPod is illegal. However, fewer people are aware that Frozen parties or reproducing the songs might well infringe Disney’s IP. There is some protection now for creating parodies, but often people just cover songs and put the video online.

It is, quite simply, infringement, but there is some good news. Disney has a history of protecting its IP but, in the case of Frozen, there appears to have been a well-developed plan. It has, so far, left fans to express their love for the brand by technically “infringing”, whilst pursuing those genuine infringers who have improperly sought to copy the work for illicit reasons or gain. The general message that has gone out is that, as long as there is no commercial purpose, fans should feel free to express themselves; cross that line, however, and Disney’s response is likely to be icy.