The Walt Disney Company has been named in a copyright infringement suit by a US screenwriter centring on the film “Zooptia”.
Esplanade Productions, which was founded by screenwriter Gary Goldman, filed its suit against Disney at the US District Court for the Central District of California on Tuesday, March 21.
The suit argued that Disney had infringed Goldman’s copyright and an implied-in-fact contract, that there was a breach of confidence and that Disney had also competed unfairly.
According to the suit, between 2000 and 2009, Goldman, who wrote the screenplay for the film “Total Recall”, researched, conceptualised, developed and wrote an “original artistic work” called “Zootopia”.
Goldman’s “Zootopia” was planned as a franchise for TV programmes and motion pictures, based on an animated cartoon that “metaphorically explores life in America through the fictional setting of a diverse, modern and civilised society of anthropomorphic animals”.
In February this year, Goldman registered character descriptions, illustrations and a synopsis at the US Copyright Office.
The suit added that Goldman pitched his “Zootpia” film to Mandeville Films’ CEO, David Hoberman, in 2000.
According to the claim, there is an understanding during such meetings that ideas and materials discussed are “disclosed in confidence”.
The suit alleged that Hoberman was Walt Disney Studios’ former president of motion pictures, and that Mandeville Films had a “first-look production contract with defendants”.
Hoberman allegedly “responded favourably” to Goldman’s pitch and asked for copies of the screenwriter’s character illustrations.
However, Hoberman later told Goldman that Mandeville Films would not seek to acquire rights to the film.
Goldman pitched the film again in 2009 to Brigham Taylor who, Esplanade believed, was Walt Disney Pictures' executive vice president of production and development at the time.
Goldman was again told that the rights to the film would not be acquired.
Disney’s "Zootopia" premiered in March last year and won a Golden Globe and an Academy Award.
The film follows anthropomorphic animals working together to uncover a conspiracy.
The suit alleged that the film is “substantially similar” to Goldman’s “Zootopia” and uses substantially similar settings, characters, dialogue, mood, pace and artwork.
Esplanade asked for preliminary and permanent injunctions against Disney, damages, future damages, punitive damages, pre- and post-judgment interest, expenses, attorneys’ fees and any other relief the court deems just and proper.
A Disney spokesman told WIPR: “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.”