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Disney Seeks Removal of Characters from Toilet Walls in New Zealand

May 10, 1991

Undated (AP) _ WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) - Mickey and Minnie have been around the world, but The Walt Disney Co. draws the line at having them go to the toilet.

The Burbank, Calif.-based entertainment giant has demanded that cartoons of the famous mice, along with Pluto, Donald Duck and one of the seven dwarves, be scrubbed from the walls of a toilet block in a children’s playground in the small town of Featherston.

The company’s Sydney managing director, John Cookson, said Thursday that Disney did not want to be seen as bullying Featherston because the painting obviously was done without intent to break copyright.

″But it’s our task to make sure the Disney characters are well represented and used in appropriate situations,″ he said.

The Featherston Community Board decided later in the day to write to Disney seeking approval to retain the cartoon characters for the enjoyment of children.

Disney is no stranger to controversy over the use of characters. Last month Disney and Henson Associates reached an out-of-court agreement over Disney’s use of Henson’s Muppet characters after Henson sued Disney for trademark infringement.

In New Zealand the Disney cartoons, along with characters from the Muppets and that much-older favorite, Humpty Dumpty, were drawn to brighten the outside of the toilet block.

Board chairman Allan Pollard said after a meeting Thursday that the board would pay a small royalty if Disney asked, but ″if they won’t come to the party and demand the removal of the paintings, we will comply with their request.″

Cookson said Disney didn’t plan to be spending a lot of effort pursuing such cases.

″We are fairly busy with the day-to-day running of business and we could spend a lot of time chasing things like this,″ he said. ″It’s not our intention to do that. This one only came to my attention because I saw it in a local paper.″

Cookson described the work as ″pretty awful″ and said he first thought it was the work of a graffiti artist.

″I then found out the council had sanctioned the work, but it was on a public toilet, which is an inappropriate place for the characters to be located,″ he said.

″If the characters are used, we want them to be of an appropriate standard that we go along with.″

The request to remove the offending portraits astounded South Wairarapa mayor John Garrity, who said Disney’s reaction was ″crazy.″

He said beautification of the Featherston toilets was hardly a major transgression, and it was a case of Disney ″using a hammer to try to crush a gnat.″

″I’m sure there are millions of times when Goofy, Mickey Mouse and Pluto appear in publications or as characters in street parades without any concern over copyright,″ he said.

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