The Orange County Register reported that Disney canceled plans to trademark “Dia de los Muertos” which is a traditional holiday celebrated in Mexico and the U.S. The request was put in May 1 and led to some criticism from the Latino community and others. Of those who chimed in were Genevieve Barrios Southgate who serves as Santa Ana’s Bowers Museum director of community programs said, “Disney obviously responded to public pressure. I guess that’s what happens when you don’t have culturally sensitive people as your advisers.”
The November holiday is celebrated by millions of Mexicans and Mexican Americans in Mexico and the United States. Dia de los Muertos—or Day of the Dead—pays respect to deceased loved ones and involve cleaning and decorating graves as well building shrines and leaving gifts.
Disney sought to trademark the name to produce merchandise and a Pixar animated filmed based on Dia de los Muertos. Disney gave a statement on the situation which said, “Disney’s trademark filing was intended to protect any potential title for our film and related activities. It has been since determined that the title of the film will change and therefore we are withdrawing our trademark filing.”
Or as Barrios Southgate said, “Disney obviously responded to public pressure.” Of course if you’re running a multi-billion company and you run into any patch of culture-based, race-based, gender-based, etc. insensitivity, you’re going to phrase your response in a way that says otherwise to avoid further bad press and potential damage.
Alejandro Gradilla—who serves as chairman of the Chicana and Chicano Studies Department at California State University, Fullerton—told The Orange County Register that Disney was trying to infringe on “something that is so uniquely Mexican and Mexican-American,” He also mentioned that it wouldn’t be the last time a company attempted to copyright a holiday.
Gradilla’s words could be prophetic. Some company out there is definitely wringing their hands at the thought of putting their logo or the trademark sign on Christmas or Thanksgiving. That same company is probably paying attention at Disney’s retreat from the attempt and are trying to come up with own Plan B and Plan C just in case. You definitely won’t get far without a Plan B or Plan C.
Phoenix, Arizona-area lawyer Michael Campillo of Venable, Campillo, Logan, and Meaney P.C chimed in with what Disney successfully getting the trademark would’ve meant. “It doesn’t mean they can stop anyone else from putting on a Dia de los Muertos celebration or anything on those lines. They could stop someone from putting out a movie with the same name, or other merchandise.” Campillo added, “It seems odd that they would go out of their way to upset the consuming public, a large part of which they’re trying to court for business.”
Prior to trying to snag “Dia de los Muertos”, Disney attempted to grab the trademark for “SEAL Team 6” only days after the U.S Navy team killed Osama bin Laden. This of course brought them under a lot of fire and the company dropped their bid for the trademark.
It would be easy to say that Disney hasn’t learned a thing from the previous situation, but common sense and learning from previous failures only come into play when it concerns something that could make or lose money in business.
What are your thoughts on this? Has a lesson been learned or can we expect Disney to do it again with some other entity, event, or so on? To go even further; how long before we hear of another instance of a company trying to copyright something that could lead to a backlash on grounds ranging from ethical to cultural?