The Walt Disney Company (NYSE: DIS) and its subsidiaries are accused of copying the idea for Zootopia, the billion-dollar grossing animal flick and winner of Best Animated Feature Film at the 89th Academy Awards this year.
Esplanade Productions filed a copyright infringement case against Disney at the United States District Court, Central District of California on Tuesday, March 21, 2017. Veteran screenwriter Gary Goldman is the CEO and sole shareholder of Esplanade Productions.
Aside from copyright infringement, Goldman’s company accused Disney of breach of implied-in-fact contract, breach of confidence, and unfair competition. It is seeking a jury trial and unspecified damages.
Goldman wrote screenplays for major motion pictures such as Total Recall and Big Trouble in Little China, and produced the Minority Report and Next.
Goldman pitched the idea for Zootopia to Disney twice
In its lawsuit, Esplanade Productions claimed that Goldman researched, conceptualized, developed and wrote Zootopia (Goldman Zootopia) in 2000. He devoted substantial time to create and write detailed descriptions of the movie franchise’s main characters including their physical appearance, personal histories, and character traits.
He pitched the idea for Zootopia to Disney twice. The first was in 2000 to David Hoberman, CEO of Mandeville Films and former president of Walt Disney Studios. At the time, Mandeville has a first-look production contract with Disney.
Goldman tried to offer the concept for Zootopia to Disney for the second time in 2009. He presented to Brigham Taylor, then executive vice president of production and development at Disney. He disclosed his ideas and materials for Zootopia in a meeting, where he is offering it for sale to Disney.
Esplanade Pictures stated in its complaint that studios and producers in the movie industry understand that any ideas and written material submitted by screenwriters in confidence. They may not be disclosed to others or used beyond the limits of the confidence without the consent of the writer. It claimed that Goldman and Disney had such understandings.
Esplanade Pictures alleged that Disney “produced, reproduced, distributed, performed, displayed and prepared derivative works based on Goldman’s concept for Zootopia.”
“The Disney Zootopia is substantially similar to the Goldman Zootopia,” said Esplanade Pictures. It added that Disney’s version uses characters, dialogue, settings, mood, pace, artwork, and themes similar to Goldman’s.
Esplanade Pictures claimed that Disney willfully infringed its copyright in the Goldman Zootopia and it is seeking financial and punitive damages.
Disney’s response to the allegation
A spokesman for Disney said, “Mr. Goldman’s lawsuit is riddled with patently false allegations. It is an unprincipled attempt to lay claim to a successful film he didn’t create, and we will vigorously defend against it in court.”
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