Piñatas fashioned after popular cartoon characters and sold by small-time street vendors are the subject of a new legal crackdown by big entertainment companies including Disney.
The two men browsing in Benjamin Santoyo's downtown Los Angeles produce store acted like many of his customers, not so much interested in fruit and vegetables as in the enormous pinatas of Winnie the Pooh, The Incredibles, and an orange fish named Nemo, all bobbing from a string tied to the ceiling. But theirs was an undercover visit on behalf of Disney Enterprises Inc. and four other entertainment industry giants aiming to stop the sale of counterfeit pinatas just as the bust-it-up party activity has become about as mainstream at Southland kids parties as cake, streamers and tortilla chips.
Disney and the other companies, in what experts said was an understandable move to protect their popular cartoon and character properties, filed copyright and trademark infringement lawsuits against Santoyo and another nearby shop owner for allegedly selling the counterfeit pinatas.
Although Santoyo settled last month for an undisclosed sum, word of the legal action against these two small Los Angeles vendors – who peddle their wares in an informal pinata district centered along Olympic Boulevard and Central Avenue – has reverberated through the garages, backyards and warehouses of pinata makers as far away as Santa Ana, who worry that they too will be targeted. But will they stop making the images of Cinderella and Dora?
"Without that, we don't have much of a business," said South Los Angeles pinata maker Marta Garcia. "We need to be careful, but it's hard because the demand is for the characters on television and in the theaters."