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Bad IdeasDisney

Did Disney Steal “Alice in Wonderland” Artwork from A College Student?

Artist Katie Woodger is claiming on her Tumblr this morning that Disney’s Consumer Products division has been reproducing her Alice in Wonderland artwork on Disney merchandise without permission. She has a compelling case:

My painting was created back in 2010, and since then so many people have expressed their love for it, not just on tumblr, but in many places. At least 9 people had it tattooed on their bodies. It’s one of my favourite images I created at University and I was proud of it in many ways.

Disney have used it on a cosmetics bag HERE (look at the back)

and they have produced a Tshirt HERE with a really similar design clearly modeled from my painting.

I’m so mad because I have no chance at getting Disney to do anything about it. I had so much respect for the company and now I am just SO upset and disappointed.

Bear in mind that Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland is a public domain property and Woodger’s art was styled in an original manner that is distinct from the Disney versions. If her claims hold up, this would be a bold example of copyright theft by the Disney Company.

  • d. harry

    Get ’em girl!!!! They need to give you a PAY DAY!!

  • Ness

    Last time I checked, she said she doesn’t really have the means (ie money for a lawyer) to pursue this much further, which is unfortunate :/

    • arishagal

      Well, many attorneys at white-shoe firms take on pro bono cases!

  • Natalie Belton

    Disney is no stranger to copyright infringement. But, given how big the company is, they can often get away with it.

  • DBenson

    Would almost bet the merchandise “designer” (Disney staff or a licensee?) grabbed it off the Internet (or got it from someone else who did), thinking it was a genuine period illustration and therefore PD. There are still an alarming number of people who think anything accessible online is up for grabs.
    The images flanking the oval don’t look like they were drawn to complement the image; supports the idea of a non-artist doing cut-and-paste from various sources.

    Whether in-house or not, it’s the sort of foulup a copyright-obsessed company like Disney shouldn’t make in the first place and they should do right by the artist, if only to assure their own credibility in persecuting pirates.

  • Mac

    Its a gesture. This is not even close to being “stolen”. Her painting is in debt to the Disney design of the character, which is the design inspiration used in drawing on the cosmetic bag. Whether or not some dude in consumer products saw and borrowed the gesture, is unprovable. We all have the same cultural and artistic heritage, theres only so many angles, and the common constraints of saying “I want to depict this scene from Alice and Wonderland” can easily yield these two pictures “independently”. We’re all at risk if we start picking apart images with nonsense like this in the courts. We can forgive this person for being totally ignorant with her head up her own ass, to make such bold statements.

    • AmidAmidi

      Mac – I think you’re looking at the wrong piece. Look at the piece in the middle. The piece is not a gesture. It’s the EXACT same artwork, down to the linework. Further, her piece is illustrative and owes little to the simplified animation forms of Disney’s version. If anything, her drawing is in the tradition of earlier illustrated versions, like Jessie Willcox Smith’s work from the 1920s:

      • Mac

        Yes, totally misread that Disney sold those Xeroxes in the center. Thats very bad. Looks like I’ve failed again.

        • AmidAmidi

          No worries…happens to the best of us. ;)

    • RM

      There is no scene in the disney film of Alice in Wonderland where Alice paints the roses white to defy the queen.

      • stupid name

        Do you mean the actual film? Official Disney art? You are incorrect on both. Alice does it with the cards (who make the mistake of planting the wht roses. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SfmAzoILaK8) right around mark 0:01:32. & there is line art I’ve seen in a coloring book from the same animated images.

        • JodyMorgan

          As the clip you linked to shows, she paints the roses red in the movie; the original painting by Katie Woodger shows her painting the roses white, which the artist explains as being an act of rebellion against the Queen of Hearts. If you look closely at the painting in the leftmost third of the above image, you’ll see that the paint on the brush is white.

          • stupid name

            Oh I see now! Than yes. There is no scene turing red to white. Just a scene of painted roses.

  • “#$%& you. Pay me.”

    comes to mind.

  • Reece

    I hope Disney get taken to court over this! It’s disgusting that they could even imagine getting away with this. It’s such a shame that she doesn’t have the funds.
    …But if I know Tumblr, we’ll come up with some crazy sceme to fund it. ;)

    • Miles

      OMG, Do you really think Disney is trying to get away with this LOL.
      it was a mistake why would they focus there attention on trying to get away with selling a t shirt and a bag. Your so funny

  • Gavin Mouldey

    It also looks like Disney completely missed the point in the t-shirt version, by depicting Alice actually painting the roses red, rather than defiant white. Perhaps that’s their fantasy version of a submissive Alice.

    • Paul N

      In the Disney film, Alice does paint the roses red. Sings about it and everything…

      • JodyMorgan

        Yes, but the artist of the original painting (the left third of the image above) had Alice painting the roses white as an act of rebellion against the Queen of Hearts.

        • Paul Naas

          Yes, but why would Disney have their Alice design do that on a t-shirt? It’s not about a “submissive Alice,” it’s about leveraging their movie imagery on a t-shirt. And in the movie…

        • cc

          actually, the original picture has her painting the roses red, while the picture disney used is an alternate version (also by katie)

  • z-k

    Predicting that Disney will claim that the bag is ~82% their own designs, outweighing the remaining percentage that is this girls’ artwork. Add this with somehow muddying the waters as to who exactly in what department lifted the image and from where (“It was attributed to PD on a foreign imaging site, and now it’s gone!”), they may use that as leverage to try to settle with her out of court on a smaller amount than if found guilty of outright image theft.

    The shirt is a a little greyer I’d think in the legal sense; but if the bag sets the precedent, it’s a further opening to have to pay more. Hence the former strategy.

  • michael swofford

    Let that be a lesson to designers who think they can crib something off the Internet (or anywhere else) and no one will be any the wiser, especially when they are working for a very public company.

  • Considering the sheer amount of merchandise produced by 3rd parties under Disney license, I would be surprised if the purse design is a product of a Disney design department. It look like the sort of thing that would be hacked together by someone with access to Disney “clip-art”. I am a bit put off by the knee-jerk reactions presuming Disney guilty until proven innocent.

    • Dude! It is currently for sale in the Disney store. Currently. In. The. Disney. Store. I am a bit put off by your knee-jerk reactions presuming Disney innocent. Not that i suggest you actually do any research before you form an opinion, heaven forbid, but the link is *right there* in the text!

      • Miles

        you dont understand how it works Disney is a big company sometimes mistakes happen. this was a mistake.

        • That does not in any way make it legal.

          • Fish

            No, but until someone brings it to the attention of the right people at Disney…, how are they supposed to fix a mistake they don’t know exists? I haven’t seen any mention that the artist has actually taken her beef to Disney, to give them a chance to fix it.

      • Gee… did I strike a nerve? What ever happen to “innocent until PROVEN guilty”? Oh, right… I forgot. This is the internet… who needs proof of anything?

        FYI, I did my research… I read the article, I followed the links. Each one. I am aware this item is for sale in the Disney Store. It being for sale doesn’t prove theft of IP.

        Disney may have no direct responsibility for this situation. If a licensee produced the artwork, provided a false provenance for the non-Disney art (claiming public domain or it was their own) for Disney’s OK, and had the item independently manufactured, then we have a different situation… and a more likely one, IMO.

        I have some familiarity with merchandising and understand how foul-ups like this occur without the knowledge/direct participation of a licensor (Disney). They were never uncommon, even prior to the internet. I know firsthand how secondary parties (licensees) can screw things up for you.

        However, if Disney supplied a manufacturer with the artwork for this item and it is produced directly for them, then yes, Disney is guilty.

        There’s even the third scenario that the item is manufactured directly for Disney, but Disney hired a specialized third-party design firm to design it.

        FWIW, I pretty much agree with DBenson’ post, although I don’t hold Disney (or any anyone) to an impossible standard of never making mistakes.

        • z-k

          I think the reason most folks react the way they do to cases like these is the initial thought of how much it costs to lawyer up – a molehill for an entity like WD; climbing Mount Improbable for the average individual once the case goes beyond a certain point. The lone artist is almost always the underdog in a situation like this, even if they find a lawyer pro-bono, due to whatever degree of burden-of-proof a judge or law may require; the fact that most artists are legally green so to speak; and that as with the general market, so too the legal system: You get what you pay for.

          There was a case involving (IIRC) Marlboro or Camel’s advert dept stealing an illustration from a fairly established artist at the time, barely modifying it for their own purposes (flipping the image, dropping opacity and adding an extra layer of something, etc). Artist caught wind of it and had to go to extraordinary lengths to provide lines of evidence that it was in fact her art. Take-home message at the end of the day was the accompanying time, cost, and effort for someone who was clearly in the right (and has to hold down a day-job the meanwhile) when going up against a corporate entity. Again, mountain vs molehill.

        • Same difference. Either the Disney store is selling items made-to-order, or the Disney store is re-selling third part items containing licensed Disney art combined with stolen art. Either way, the Disney store is currently selling illegal items. Pirated goods. That is a provable fact.
          I don’t see where “innocent” even enters into it. A crime is inarguably committed here. At wich exact level of Disney management the criminals can be found should be a matter for the courts to decide.

        • George Maurier

          In a way it seems you disregard that, while any of these cases might be true, regardless of their direct or indirect involvement, the fact that such a product could appear in a disney-related context at all, tells us something about the company.

          A company that was founded on artistic ability should present the upmost respect for any artists work and be at all time conscious about intellectual property – at least in that context.

          Wrong or not, it shows a lack of care. It might be a legitimate mistake for someone new to the business but in this case it’s much more likely a symptom for the downfall of care for artistic skill which seems to have become an industry standard more than ever.

  • Dana B

    I really hate when stuff like this happens. It’s like no one can post art online anymore without putting a watermark on it, though I’m sure that’s not a fail-safe way for protecting one’s art…

  • Elana Pritchard

    I think she should pursue the case.

  • DarylT

    Someone at disney consumer products is going to be in trouble.

  • jmahon

    putting your URL on something is next to nothing, it takes 5 seconds in photoshop or a quick cropping job to get rid of it, unless you plaster it across in a watermark which many artists choose not to do because it undermines their work visually. Just because she doesn’t have her name on it, doesn’t mean she has given it up to the aether for free.

    If I were Disney’s PR dept, I’d offer an apology, compensation, and cease the line of merchandise using her artwork… and then, maybe offer her a job as a designer, if she would forgive them?

    • Should you really take a job with a company as an apology for stealing your work?

      • jmahon

        I know for many people, they’d happily flip them the bird if they tried that, but obviously she is a Disney lover, and I think all of us understand this was the work of one careless idiot and not the company as a whole, which still holds a little bit of magic. Well, sort of, anyway. I’d contemplate it… it’s not as if the entire company conspired to steal my artwork.

        I can’t speak for her, though, I hope she gets some closure with all of this, either way.

  • stupid name

    Copyright infringement is wild on the web. Has anyone ever looked at Devient Art? However, one in the industry would have to agree that it is on both sides of the table. I noticed Katie Woodger’s bag using Disney’s animated Cheshire cat in her design. As well as the alice, mixing in her old frame (she created from scratch?) Someone obviously didn’t do their fact checking. Disney created multitude of stock art for vendor to use. This artwork is all over the net, as it it all over product. The shirt, uses the same idea and was probably not the best use, but as Kris Asard pointed out that one is a harder case than the bag.

    • stupid name

      I misunderstood. The art work was just the center piece that was used for the bag!! Oh. Someone must have throught it was artwork from the old book (which is what I think she meant to do). To Kris Asard point- now that Disney Store knows, it should pull the bag. It could have been a 3rd party. Though, you claim Disney is at fault either way- which I believe wrong (if it was 3rd party & they pull the bag ASAP)

  • Ara

    I really hope a (really nice, willing to do pro bono) lawyer stops by and gets a look at this article…it would be a complete shame if Disney got away with this. The infringement is so blatant it hurts.

  • StolenArt

    I know someone personally that worked as a graphic designer for clothing companies, he had a hard drive full of images he’d download and use on the designs without checking copyrights, or even caring if the images had copyrights. He’d also claim a bunch of designs were his, that I found on threadless and then when confronted, his response was that his work was spread around the globe and anybody could have stolen it at any given time. I agree with a lot of people on this board, some designer somewhere saw this image, and simply took it.

  • Steve Macintyre

    The idea of Alice painting roses from the book is stolen? Two artists can’t think of the same uninspired centered pose?

    • JodyMorgan

      Disney (or, more likely, a graphic designer working for them) didn’t steal just the pose, they stole the actual artwork. Katie Woodger’s painting is in the left third of the image above; the middle third of the image is a picture of a cosmetics bag currently being sold at the Disney Store. It’s obvious that the image on the bag is directly swiped from the original. The t-shirt on the right uses the same pose, but I don’t know if that would be enough to be considered theft or infringement (especially since it shows Alice painting the roses red, instead of white as in the original painting).

  • citizenvern

    Why make a big deal out of it? Disney has always been SO LENIENT when artists come anywhere near THEIR copyrighted images! Right? (Hint: The answer is No.)

  • Cyn

    The logical step would be to first register with the US copyright office. Then send Disney a notice of infringement and demand compensation + take-down of the infringing merchandise, & an apology for good measure. This way, if Disney refuses, she can show that she attempted to mitigate damages if she takes this to court. HOWEVER:

    1) She needs to register her (c) in that particular artwork to even file for a lawsuit.

    2) She needs to find either find a pro bono attorney to represent her, or find an attorney willing to work on a contingency basis.

  • Austin Papageorge

    Hasbro has done this before and nothing happened. There’s not a precedent of large media companies facing punishment for these kind of actions.

  • Amanda

    Modern Dog a Seattle design firm has risked everything in order to fight Disney on a similar copyright theft. This seems to be a recurring theme at Disney. Read about it here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/14/modern-dog-design-company-lawsuit_n_1882559.html.

  • Karzay

    It’s not Disney’s fault if they hired and artist and the artist passed someone else’s work off as their own. Disney needs to settle with the real artist of the work and seek damages from the artist who stole the work and misrepresented themselves to Disney.

  • Rufus

    This is the trouble with the conglomerate leviathan. They think they’re above the law. Unless someone makes a fuss. It’s coming close to a dictatorship. I, along with many else loathe what the company’s become.

  • Brak

    Those links appear to have had their images removed “Curiouser and curiouser…

    Something strange has certainly happened!” indeed.

  • cre8tiveron

    Find it very interesting that the link for the bag is no longer “live” on the Disney site – possible admission of guilt?

  • princecharming13

    Currently, the links to the bag and tshirt bring up an error page on the Disney website. Hopefully, this problem is being solved.

  • DorothyP

    The image came from the Disney animated feature.

  • Jen Hurler

    So any news on this case? Her most recent Tumblr updates offer no insight as to what happened. And like another reader said, the two products now bring up error messages on the Disney Store site. I’m just curious if Disney actually addressed it or just quietly removed the items.. I hope who ever was involved learned from it.

  • Nix_Nightbird

    Not to defend Disney here, but it amazes me that people have such a problem with this, but then rush to defend the folks at Etsy and all the design-and-sell-your-own-T-Shirt places online when they put up merchandise that CLEARLY uses someone else’s Intellectual Property. You know what I’m talking about: All the video game, movie, comic, and novel-derived T-shirts, knickknacks, “fan art” and other items being sold without even a “yes you may” from the people/company who created the property. Star Wars, Star Trek, Mario, Game of Thrones, Portal, Big Trouble In Little China, Highlander, Harry Potter, Battlestar Galactica, Twilight, My Little Pony, Firefly, etc…. There are TONS of items being sold by people who have no association with the entities that created those properties, and none of you ever seems to scream “What an outrage!” when those things pop up for sale, even though they’re CLEARLY counterfeit items and the people selling them have no right to make a profit from the IP.

    If you condemn Disney for this action (as you rightly should; They obviously stole this woman’s art based on a public domain property) then you must also vow not to purchase T-shirts that have your favorite character or movie quote on them unless they’re ACTUALLY LICENSED from the copyright holders. You have a duty to report people selling “Genuine Jane Hats” for stealing. You must say nasty things to people selling posters featuring characters they don’t own the rights to.

    So far, I seem to be alone in that crusade. Everyone says “Oh, fan art is different!” and IT IS NOT. Copyright is copyright, and the considerations should apply to both individuals and corporations alike. You don’t get to scream about Disney doing this, and then give a pass to the person on Etsy selling homemade Mario costumes or Blade Runner coats.

    It goes both ways. Disney’s wrong, but so are all the other IP thieves out there.