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Disney copyright lawsuit over Zootopia

View profile for Christopher Buck
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Recently, Disney has taken to investing in studios so as to produce successful franchises. After attempts at setting up franchises, such as a sci-fi franchise with John Carter, Disney appear to instead be looking to invest in already developed and successful franchises, including buying the Star Wars franchise from LucasFilm.

Despite success in developing the business, Disney is currently facing a copyright claim by the writer of Total Recall, Gary L Goldman, in relation to Disney’s Zootopia, which was the fourth-highest grossing film of 2016.

Goldman is claiming that he put forward the idea for Zootopia on two occasions (2009 and 2010), both of which were rejected by Disney. Now, he suggests that instead of working with him on the franchise, Disney have instead copied his work to develop the Oscar-winning Zootopia.
Zootopia’s director, Byron Howard, is reported by the claimant to have said: "Don’t worry if you feel like you’re copying something, because if it comes through you, it’s going to filter through you and you’re going to bring your own unique perspective to it”, thus forming a further part of Goldman’s claim.

Goldman’s complaint goes on to detail how Disney have copied a multitude of his ideas, ranging from characters, their conversations and interactions and also the themes presented in the animated picture. There are also allegations of copying the artwork and designs created by Goldman to be used for the characters and the name of the franchise itself, Zootopia.

An example of copied work was the line “If you want to be an elephant, you can be an elephant” to be said by one of the characters as written by Goldman. In Disney’s Zootopia, a character presents this very similar line: “You want to be an elephant when you grow up, you be an elephant”.

In response to Goldman’s claims, Disney have replied stating that: “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.”

There have not been any figures presently released in relation to Goldman’s claim, it appears to be for unspecified damages. However, on the basis that Zootopia has grossed over a massive £820 million (not including sales of all merchandise), if Disney are found to have copied the ideas and works of Goldman, they could be footed with a hefty bill.

Expert advice

It is always worth considering what, if any, implications may arise from any actions you are looking to take. Whether that be looking to develop works without infringing the rights of the original material, or protecting your own original material from infringement.

If you would like further information in relation to copyright matters, whether that be protecting your own interests or ensuring you are not breaching the rights of others, our experienced Intellectual Property team would be delighted to assist.

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