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IP/Entertainment Case Law Updates

Wilson v. The Walt Disney Co.

Identifying numerous similarities, the court allowed the plaintiff filmmaker to pursue a claim that Disney’s teaser trailer for Frozen infringed on plaintiff’s animated short The Snowman but dismissed her claim that the film Frozen was infringing.

Plaintiff Kelley Wilson owns the copyrights to an animated short film titled The Snowman, which depicts a snowman losing his carrot nose, the nose sliding to the middle of a frozen pond, a rabbit on the other side of the pond that wants the nose, a contest between the snowman and the rabbit to reach the nose first, the rabbit beating the snowman to the carrot, and the rabbit eventually returning the nose to the snowman. Defendants, including The Walt Disney Company (collectively, “Disney”), are the producers and developers of the full-length animated motion picture Frozen as well as teaser trailers for Frozen.

Plaintiff brought a copyright infringement action against Disney, claiming that both the movie and the trailer infringe on plaintiff’s copyright for The Snowman. Disney moved to dismiss, arguing that neither the teaser trailer nor the movie were substantially similar to The Snowman. After noting certain similarities between the works, the court denied the motion with respect to the teaser trailer. Although the court found differences between the teaser trailer and The Snowman, it found that the two works share an essential sequencing of events from start to finish, not merely a similar premise, and a reasonable juror could find that the sequencing constitutes the artistic expression of an idea, rather than a generic idea or series of generic ideas.

“Both works are animated shorts that depict the following sequence of events: (i) a snowman loses his carrot nose; (ii) the nose slides out to the middle of a frozen pond; (iii) the snowman is on one side of the pond and an animal who covets the nose is on the other; (iv) the characters engage in a contest to get to the nose first; (v) the screen pans back and forth from the snowman to the animal, set to music, as they endeavor to get to the nose; (vi) the contest continues when the snowman and the animal arrive at the nose at the same time; (vii) the animal ends up with the nose, leaving the snowman (and the viewer) to wonder if the snowman’s nose will become food for the animal; and (viii) in the end, the animal returns the nose to the snowman.”

The court granted Disney’s motion to dismiss with respect to the movie Frozen and to other allegedly infringing trailers, finding that the movie is not substantially similar to The Snowman and that plaintiff failed to identify the other trailers allegedly infringing plaintiff’s copyright. The court rejected plaintiff’s argument that Frozen could be found to infringe plaintiff’s copyright solely because it has an infringing teaser trailer, especially because no scene from the trailer actually appears in the movie.

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