In a recent ruling, the California Court of Appeal affirmed a judgment in favor of The Walt Disney Company and its affiliates in a copyright lawsuit brought by Esplanade Productions, Inc. The suit alleged that Disney used the creative ideas of Esplanade’s principal, Gary Goldman, in Disney’s animated film “Zootopia” without compensation.
Goldman, a screenwriter, had developed an idea for a mixed live-action/animated movie called “Looney,” which included an animated television show titled “Zootopia.” He alleged that he pitched this idea to Disney in 2009, but was informed that Disney’s animation department was not interested. However, Disney later released an animated film titled “Zootopia” in 2016, which grossed over $1 billion in box office revenue.
Esplanade’s lawsuit claimed that Disney’s “Zootopia” shared similar titles, artwork, dialogue, themes, characters, settings, plot and sequence of events, mood, and selection, arrangement, and combination of elements with Goldman’s work. However, the trial court found that the individual elements of the works and the works as a whole were not substantially similar as a matter of law.
The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s decision, ruling that there was no evidence that the creators of Disney’s “Zootopia” had access to Goldman’s work. Even if there was evidence of access, any inference of copying was rebutted by the undisputed evidence that a Disney employee had independently created the title “Zootopia.”
This decision marks another victory for Disney in a series of copyright lawsuits related to its popular animated films. The outcome of this case may influence future copyright disputes in the entertainment industry.