Recently a Redbubble designer shared a letter they got about the takedown of their “Low Key Loki” design. And I have to say that I really wish I was even slightly surprised. The image below is a clip from the form letter Redbubble gave to the artist regarding their tee shirt design.
The thing is that this isn’t the first time that Disney has attempted total nonsense like this. In fact it’s not even the second time. After all, there was that time that Disney tried to trademark a Mexican holiday. There was also that time that Disney tried to trademark a traditional Swahili expression. In fact, aggressive use of trademark law is one of Disney’s preferred methods of expressing ownership over a concept.
Now I know the pedants in the room will be quick to jump on how trademark is more limited than copyright, that the use of “Hakuna Matata” within the Lion King and the use of Día de Muertos in the (insufferable) Coco does not prevent people from using the expression or enjoying the holiday but that’s the thing: as Disney has shown with their most recent trademark shenanigans, they’re perfectly willing to attempt to take ownership of the idea of Loki notwithstanding the usual barriers of specific design or context that limit trademark. Frankly it doesn’t matter whether something Disney claims ownership is claimed via copyright or trademark. The truth is that in both cases it’s Disney expressing a territory.
If you look at how Disney has camped on the works of Hans Christian Andersen, the Brothers Grimm, Chinese folk traditions dating back 1700 years, Madame Gabrielle-Suzanne de Villeneuve, and so many other artists whose work has entered the public domain then what you see is the same predation that played out across England between 1600 and 1900 being executed again not in real estate but within the terrain of the imagination.
Let’s not have a misunderstanding. Disney has no right to ownership of the Little Mermaid, Rapunzel, Hua Mulan, Beauty and the Beast, Día de Muertos, Hakuna Matata or Loki. All they did in all these cases was to adapt extant public-domain material. That they then try to claw these stories, characters and concepts out of the public domain, and that anybody complies says nothing about the nature of copyright or trademark law but rather just demonstrates that all laws kneel below sufficient power and sufficient hubris.
I have not been watching Loki. This is, in fact, because I was quite fond of Thor: Ragnarok which I consider to be the best of the MCU films by a considerable margin. Loki’s arc ended there and it was a satisfactory ending. That the MCU decided to retcon him back to a prior, more usable, state at the expense of character growth is a perfect example of the corrosive violence to art that Disney represents. However I know some people are watching it and enjoying it.
If this is you I have just one request: find some way to watch this show that doesn’t give Disney a single penny of your money. I don’t care about the details but the only way to make Disney relax its avarice about this or that cultural artifact is to make it worthless to them. So do that thing.