Disney+ has another winner on its hands with Loki, a twisty mystery that’s part-Doctor Who, part-buddy cop comedy with lots of existential questions about fate and morality in the mix. Tom Hiddleston, Sophia Di Martino, Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Owen Wilson (in particular!) have all been excellent in their respective rolls as time cops and assorted mischievous scamps, but the show’s success has prompted an interesting new legal quagmire. Can Disney trademark gods?
They can definitely try, as Twitter user @YourBoswell found out when he tried to upload a fanmade Loki T-shirt design onto online marketplace Redbubble. Redbubble flagged the design for copyright violation, since Loki is owned by Disney. But Redbubble’s move prompted some online outrage, since Loki isn’t just a Marvel supervillain. He’s a Norse deity with at least 1,500 years of history. And while he’s more widely known these days as a devilishly two-timing villain/hero/something-in-between, he spent a far longer time as a mythological god.
“21st century colonialism right here,” declared one Twitter user. A Change.org petition got going.
Disney’s trademark lawyers are probably the mightiest in the business, but this move is raising eyebrows about just how far they can go — and what might come next.
There are a few things to note. First of all, the trademark flag didn’t come from Disney. Redbubble themselves flagged the Loki T-shirt, probably out of an abundance of caution (warranted, given the House of Mouse’s notorious zeal for protecting its brand). Disney’s had a trademark on names like Loki, Thor and Odin since 2011, when the first Thor movie came out.
Technically, it only has a trademark on their interpretations of those characters, not the characters themselves. So, while you can get in trouble for using slapping an unlicensed image of muscle-bound, beach-haired, hammer-wielding Chris Hemsworth on a T-shirt and selling it, you can still use a more traditional depiction of the god of thunder without raising Disney’s ire.
But what about other such gods, especially ones that are more widely worshipped today than Loki or Thor? Obviously, there’s no real threat of Marvel recruiting a superpowered Jesus into the Avengers anytime soon, but could a cheeky marketing campaign put their own creative spin on the Son of God?
Religion News Service spoke with an intellectual property attorney named Jeremey A. Briggs who says it’s very unlikely. “[Disney] could not just trademark the word Loki or any Norse god because they are in the public domain,” Biggs told RNS. He said they can only trademark “the name in association with the character that they made up.”
Redbubble apparently feels the same way. The Loki T-shirt they originally pulled has been put back on the site.