|(Photo credit: Wikipedia)|
Dora the Explorer, the Statue of Liberty, Super Mario, Mickey & Minnie Mouse, Elmo, Cookie Monster and Spider-Man are among the Times Square denizens who pose for photos in hopes of receiving payment. Unfortunately, according to the AP story, in recent months a Cookie-Monster costume-wearing 33-year-old Osvaldo Quiroz-Lopez was charged with assault, child endangerment and aggressive begging for allegedly pushing a two year old, while someone dressed as Elmo was not tickled when he was ordered to perform two days of community service for disorderly conduct that included an anti-Semitic rant. Who knew Sesame Street was such a tough neighborhood?
City councilors are hamstrung because they perceive folks merely walking around in a costume in Times Square as First Amendment protected activity. Indeed, court challenges halted police who were ticketing street performers who lacked proper tax documentation. Police can issue tickets carrying $60 fines if the furry posers block traffic, sell merchandise without a permit or demand money for being photographed, so there is some recourse if, for instance, Mickey & Minnie start acting Goofy. Still, any enforcement must be content-neutral to withstand a First Amendment challenge.
Neither Disney nor Sesame Street has given its blessings to the street performers for donning costumes that resemble the characters whose ownership rights belong to the companies, but as a practical matter, mobilizing big-ticket law firms to round up the decidedly not deep-pocketed street performers for a trademark infringement suit isn't economically feasible.
The hard-working staff of "TUOL" grew up in the metropolitan New York area and has seen characters a lot scarier than Dora the Explorer roaming around in Times Square. As the saying goes, freedom of speech comes at accost.