Disney slaps Star Wars fans with copyright notices for sharing pictures of a toy online

With just days to go before the release of Lucasfilm's first Star Wars movie under the Walt Disney Company banner, the House of Mouse is showing its dark side.

Fans hit with DMCA takedown notices for sharing photos of a toy purchased at Walmart online

The Force Awakens is the first Star Wars movie be released since Disney acquired Lucasfilm for approximately $4 billion in 2012. (Marjorie Carvalho/Star Wars Action News/Business Insider)

With just days to go before the release of Lucasfilm's first-ever Star Wars movie under the Walt Disney Company banner, the House of Mouse is showing its dark side.

Justin Kozisek of the podcast Star Wars Action News was reportedly shopping at an Iowa Walmart last week when he spotted an action figure of the character Rey from Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

After purchasing the toy for $6.94 US, Kozisek took a picture of it and posted it to the podcast's Facebook page.

"Have we known this figure was coming?" he asked in the post. "I just found her at Walmart — no new other figures."

The image didn't stay up for long.

Marjorie Carvalho, who produces the Star Wars Action News podcast with her husband, told Ars Technica that she received a notice from Facebook later that day explaining the image had been removed because it "violated copyright."

"A friend texted my husband saying, hey, are you getting sued?" Carvalho said in an interview with Ars Technica. "It was confusing because our staff member, Justin, he took the photo."

For publishing that photo, Kozisek was immediately banned from Facebook for a period of at least three days.

As it turns out, Disney had submitted a Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) copyright infringement claim with Facebook to quash Kozisek's image of the toy, which is thought to have been released prematurely by the Walmart store where it was purchased.

Enough Star Wars memorabilia fans had already downloaded and shared the photo at that point, however, that ridding the web of it would be nearly impossible.

Disney's copyright lawyers were not deterred.

"The image had quickly spread through social media," wrote Ars Technica of the situation. "And just as fast, Lucasfilm, its owner Disney, and at least one third-party content policing company have blanketed the internet with Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) takedown notices."

Jeremy Conrad, who owns a website called Star Wars Unity, wrote a scathing blog post about the DMCA notice he'd received from Lucasfilm for retweeting photos of the action figure.

That website has since been taken offline, but a cached version of the page reads:

"This morning I woke up to numerous DMCA takedown notices on the @starwarsunity Twitter account, the Facebook account, the Google+ Page, and my personal Twitter for posting the image of an action figure that was legally purchased at Walmart. My webhost also received a takedown email from them with a threat of a lawsuit if the image wasn't removed."

Conrad wrote that the "description of infringement" listed by the notice was "a screen shot of an unreleased figurine for Star Wars: Force Awakens."

Interestingly, after Carvalho reached out to Disney using the email address listed in the DMCA notice she'd received, Facebook responded to tell her that "The Walt Disney Company has retracted their intellectual property report."

The picture of the action figure was restored — only to be taken down again by Facebook later that day when Disney submitted yet another DMCA notice, according to Reuters.

"It is unclear why Disney renewed the claim after apparently accepting Carvalho's explanation and retracting the original notice," reads a piece published yesterday by the Reuters Law & Technology blog. "It seems clear that publication of the photographs of the action figure constitute fair use. The figure was purchased legally, and Star Wars Action News has the right to take photographs of the figure and to publish those photographs. Disney's efforts to block such publication are inappropriate."

It would appear as though many fans of the franchise and its merchandise agree.

While Star Wars Action News has not published any photos of the controversial toy since this copyright battle began, fans of the page have been sharing their own photos (and thoughts on the matter) using hashtags like #ReyGate and #FreeJustin across the web.


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?