Intellectual Property

Spamley squishes a bug after insisting his place is clean.

Adherence to Copyright Law

The movie provides little commentary on intellectual property, copyright law, and rights to content creators on the internet. There are only two instances where the topic is briefly relevant. The first instance is when Ralph and Vanellope visit Spamley’s website. He offers them money in return for retrieving particular items from games. It’s clear that Spamley is a bit of a sketchy character. His apartment is dirty and disorganized. He frantically tries to organize everything and insists that it’s clean before repeatedly stepping on a large bug that runs across the floor. We can assume that he’s not directly associated with any of the game developers, and he most likely doesn’t have the legal rights to use their brands and items for profit. He operates in a moral grey area that is commonplace on the real internet.


Next, after Vanellope and Ralph’s failed attempt at stealing Shank’s car, Shank helps them make a video. After it's recorded, she says “I’m just starting your account… Alright, there you go. If this thing goes viral, you can make a lot of money.” There’s no mention of her or her crew getting any of that money anywhere in the movie, despite the fact that they were instrumental in creating the video. This paradigm of implicitly handing over rights is also commonplace. Legally, Shank probably can later ask for royalties. However, there seems to be an implicit understanding that she relinquishes the rights of the video to Ralph. Because arrangements like this are overwhelmingly common on real life, a paper from 2015 goes so far as to argue that “A principle of free use of any information on the Internet should be used, including copyright objects placed in the public domain for private purposes, provided that an author or a right holder has not stated otherwise.” [1]

Shank makes a video and a BuzzzTube account for Ralph.
Logos for Netgear and Purple, among many other brands, appear in the movie.

Product Placement

An interesting way this movie relates to intellectual property is through brand references and product placements. In an interview with The Verge, Director Phil Johnston said that they had “learned that copyright law and fair use says we can use [real brand] names in our film without getting permission. And the reason we wanted to do that is because we wanted it to feel like the real internet that we use every day.” Co-director Rich Moore adds “It’s kind of the equivalent of a live-action movie. Say they’re shooting a movie in Chicago, and a car is driving around, and we’re seeing in the background things we know, like Starbucks or McDonald’s. You don’t have to go through and paint that stuff out, because it’s just part of the tapestry of the environment. Now, if we were making comments about those companies, or using their mascots, then you get into legal ramifications. But if it’s just the signage in the background, then that’s fine.” [5] This explains why the movie primarily focuses on BuzzzTube and KnowsMore, the fictional equivalents to YouTube and Google, despite the real brand’s presence in the movie. The product placements fall into two general categories:

Disney-Owned Brands

Disney made ample use of their massive umbrella of brands in the movie. They own Lucasfilm, Ltd. and Marvel Studios, and all the rights to both firm’s characters [3][4]. In the movie, there are cameos of Stormtroopers, a TIE fighter, and various Marvel characters. Groot has a question and answer session where all of his answers are just “I am Groot”. Iron man is also present, right next to the internet avatar of Stan Lee. There’s also a scene where Vanellope meets all of the Disney Princesses. Later in the movie, as per their advice about "important water", while looking at a puddle, she spontaneously breaks into song and realizes that she wants to become a permanent denizen of Slaughter Race.

R2D2, Stan Lee, and Iron Man are seen side by side for a brief moment.

Third-Party Brands

Companies have great incentive to pay filmmakers for product placements in films that are expected to be successful. A 2009 paper found that “Product placement in a successful film is associated with an average increase in firm stock prices of .89% over the film’s opening”. [2] According to the same paper, “The abnormal return from the placement is enhanced by the presence of a tie-in advertising campaign.” There are two notable examples of product placements with tie-in advertising campaigns related to this movie: First, we see a glimpse of a McDonalds in the lobby area when Ralph and Vanellope first “land” on the internet. McDonalds further capitalized on their brand placement with a Ralph Breaks the Internet Themed ad and Happy meal toys. An Ad for Carvana is also visible during the movie while they’re travelling between websites. A similar themed ad was created for Carvana as well. Countless other brands appear in the movie, included but not limited to Skype, Reddit, Facebook, PayPal, and Netgear. Interestingly, Google and YouTube are in the movie, despite the plot mainly focusing on their fictional equivalents, KnowsMore and BuzzzTube.

McDonalds' and Carvana's Ralph Breaks the Internet themed ads

Sources

[1] Kirillova, Yelena Anatolyevna, and Oleg Yevgenyevich Blinkov. "Modern trends of ways to protect intellectual property on the internet." Asian Social Science 11.6 (2015): 244. https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/ca8c/03cce11ce6de9378b9e707995d84a217837b.pdf Accessed April 30, 2021

[2] Wiles, Michael A., and Anna Danielova. "The worth of product placement in successful films: An event study analysis." Journal of Marketing 73.4 (2009): 44-63. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1509/jmkg.73.4.044 . Accessed April 30, 2021

[3] The Walt Disney Company. "Disney to Acquire Lucasfilm Ltd." https://thewaltdisneycompany.com/disney-to-acquire-lucasfilm-ltd/ Accessed 1 May 2021.

[4] The Walt Disney Company. "Disney to Acquire Marvel Entertainment." The Walt Disney Company, 31 Aug. 2009,
https://thewaltdisneycompany.com/disney-to-acquire-marvel-entertainment/ Accessed 1 May 2021.

[5] Ralph Breaks the Internet's Directors Say the Gord Character Came from a Weird, Bad Joke. 6 Dec. 2018,
https://www.theverge.com/2018/12/6/18129015/ralph-breaks-the-internet-director-interview-rich-moore-phil-phil-johnston-gord-hyperion Accessed 1 May 2021.