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Will You Paint a Theme Wall for My Vacation Rental?

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by Jessica Stanley
The Bao Spot Las Vegas.jpg
An example of a themed restaurant we painted of our original design (The Bao Spot, Las Vegas) 

Being based in Orlando we frequently get inquiries for painting theme walls. It has become a trend in recent years for entrepreneurs to purchase vacation homes near the theme parks and rent them out to park visitors who are looking for a unique stay. To accomplish this the rooms are decked out elaborately to mimic the experience that is being had within the parks. 


Vacation home owners often send us requests to paint walls specifically themed to a Disney (or its subsidiary) Marvel movie. Let’s take a moment to discuss potential issues with this trend, and how we can be of service to you. 


Copyright Law & Intellectual Property

Under current copyright law, it would be inappropriate, if not illegal for us to reproduce someone else's intellectual property. This includes characters and scenes created by artists that work for large corporations such as Disney and Universal Studios.


You can read all the details about Florida copyright laws here: Florida Copyright Law


"No one is REALLY paying attention to what I put on a wall. I’m just one small business!" 

Don’t sell yourself short, and don’t underestimate the Mouse. Keep in mind that Disney and Universal Studios’ entire businesses are based around characters and character related experiences. They are both notorious enforcers of copyright law and have entire teams devoted to protecting their assets. 


Here is an article you can read all about the lengths Disney will go in their pursuit of protecting their intellectual property. 


Disney Copyright Infringement Cases


Discussed in the article are cases of Disney suing daycare centers (plural) and an elementary school. They did this to make a point. If you think about it critically, daycare centers and elementary schools are not industries in serious competition with Disney. 


Vacation rentals are. I can only imagine that Disney would prefer visitors stay on property, using their hotels and eating their food. Vacation rentals cut into that. When you use Disney intellectual property to lure their customers away from their business, it will probably only be a matter of time before you find yourself with a cease and desist letter. 


Additionally, Disney is sometimes referred to as one of the “founding fathers of copyright law” due to the influence the company has had on United States copyright law and changes to it over the years. Point being, they take copyright law very seriously. You can read more about that here: Mickey Mouse Keeps Changing Copyright  


"How Would I Get Caught?"

I find that many times this question is on the minds of people creating the infringing work and those requesting it. Copyright infringement is rampant on the internet (an information free for all), and it has essentially been normalized to some extent. That does not mean the laws have gone away.


Vacation rentals have to advertise their offerings to get people to stay. Posting images of theme rooms with intellectual property violations could land you in hot water. These murals create very share-able moments, and guests are likely to post and share out the work as well (which is one reason why rooms like this are created). 


Artists…by posting and sharing on social media that you are making a living off of reproducing the intellectual property of others, you could get in trouble as well. We have artist friends that have experienced this first hand. It happens. 


There is a line of thought circulating among artists that if you change a work or character by a certain percentage (I've often heard 30% or 10% thrown around in conversation), then you have in essence created a new work and avoided infringement. Unfortunately, it is not that simple. How would one measure in percentage the variations in a work? It would be very hard to nail down. Instead the law states that the new work must be “substantially” changed, but who determines what constitutes substantial? It is a murky area. Bottom line, recreating a character in a different pose or in your style, might not be enough to be considered substantial. 


If you would like to read more, here are a few articles on the topic:


How can my artwork steer clear of copyright infringement? 


The 30% Rule in Copyright Law 


Our Experience

I’m sharing this as an example in hopes that you don’t make the same mistake we did. When first starting out, we were commissioned to create a large interior mural of a character, with related theme elements on neighboring interior walls. At the time I happened to be knee deep in a masters-level course with Florida State University on Copyright and Intellectual Property Law (shame on me, I should have known better). The project made me nervous from the start, but the client assured us that he had checked with his lawyer and we should be fine. 


Things weren't fine, and the client was served a cease and desist letter, and had to remove the mural. We had not signed or publicized the piece out of concern for this very thing, so we did not face any legal consequences. Could we have? Possibly. Do we want our clients to go through that sort of thing? Absolutely not. We appreciate our clients and want them to be successful.  


This situation worked out fine for us, as the client was a big fan and hired us to paint the replacement mural (meaning we were hired and paid for two jobs instead of just one), which was our original artwork. Still, we want to operate our business with integrity, and we want our clients to be happy with a long-lived piece of art. We decided years ago that painting characters was not a road we wanted to go down, nor would it take us where we wanted to go as a business. 

An example of a themed restaurant we painted of our original design (Sus-Hi Eat Station, Winter Springs, Florida) 

A side note on licensed character materials:

If you feel like you absolutely must have a Disney or Universal character represented in your space, I suggest looking into using them as accent pieces by purchasing objects that are already in a licensing agreement with Disney/Universal, or is merchandise being specifically sold by Disney/Universal. One option for wall graphics is FatHead Wall Graphics.


These are large wall stickers that are officially licensed. You can also consider purchasing pillows, blankets, and other items that have licensing agreements and feature characters. The companies that make these products legitimately have paid for the ability to use the imagery and make the product. 


What We CAN Do

Copyright law is intended to reward the makers of something, as well as require creativity and the creation of new works by others. We would like to make something NEW for you. 


If you are heart-set on creating a themed experience in a vacation rental, consider how you can operate Disney or Universal adjacent. Meaning, it might be time to think outside of the box on how you can give theme park vibes with an indirect approach. This would involve focusing on a general theme rather than specific characters. 


Some examples might be: 


  1. Instead of recreating the exact imagery of the Haunted Mansion, you could use a similar color palette and create a spooky old fashioned library room. 

  2. Instead of painting the characters and the underwater castle from The Little Mermaid, you could request a coral reef theme wall with a sunken ship and sharks off in the distance. 

  3. Instead of requesting Spiderman soaring over a city-scape, depict the city-scape and accent the room with licensed Spider Man materials (this could be bedspread, pillows, area rugs etc. that you find online or in stores). 


You don’t have to beat people over the head with characters to create a fantastic and immersive themed experience in a vacation home. Not every inch of the parks are plastered with characters. Instead they try to re-create the world that the characters would exist in to make the visitors feel like they too are living in that fantasy. This is a great mindset to adopt when creating a theme room as well. 

An example of a themed restaurant dining room we painted of our original design (Celeste Hotel, University of Central Florida, Orlando, Florida) 

This is where we can be of service. We are open to discussing creative solutions for your space that will offer a unique theme experience without the violation of copyright law. The works we create will be in Christian’s art style, and not that of a Disney or Universal animator, but we are confident that the results will be both stunning, and will prevent you from running into intellectual property issues with our mural work down the road. 


To get started, you can follow the link below to give us more information about your upcoming project and timeline. 


Best of luck!


Jessica Stanley 

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