Woman’s Lawsuit Over “Frozen” Teaser Gains Momentum

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Do you want to build a snowman lawsuit? Well, if you’re The Walt Disney Company, all you have to do is create a teaser trailer for a billion-dollar movie. Be certain that teaser trailer looks so much like an existing animated short that the owner of the existing cartoon calls her lawyers and takes you to court.

“The Snowman” creator Kelly Wilson opted to take Disney to court in March 2014. She believed the company stole the premise from her animated short verbatim and that they had violated her copyright. Not to mention amassed a ton of money without sending so much as a penny in her direction.

Stop Me If This Sounds Familiar

In Wilson’s two-dimensional, computer-generated cartoon short, a snowman loses his carrot nose. The nose slides out on the middle of a frozen pond. On one side of the pond is the hapless snowman. On the other side of the pond: a cute animal intent on eating his carrot nose. Both struggle to get to the carrot nose first.

The animal gets the carrot nose, and the snowman is visibly dismayed. Instead of eating the snowman’s nose, however, the animal has a change of heart and gives it back.

Though not absolutely identical in nature, it’s hard to overlook that this is pretty much the exact plot of the Frozen teaser trailer.

What the Judge Had to Say

California federal judge Vince Chhabria allowed Wilson’s lawsuit to go forward as he rejected Disney’s demand for a dismissal. Said Chhabria: “The sequence of events in both works, from start to finish, is too parallel to conclude that no reasonable juror could find the works substantially similar.” In other words, Disney might be letting go of quite a bit of cash to get Wilson to settle out of court. On the bright side, this same federal judge dismissed the part of Wilson’s claim where she attempted to sue for the entire Frozen movie.

It’s obvious to anyone who saw Frozen, a story loosely based on the Ice Queen fairytale, that the teaser had nothing to do with the plot. At all. In fact the teaser is not seen in any portion of the movie.

So while this fact protects Disney from a larger lawsuit, it also helps Wilson’s case with regard to the teaser for the film.

What Happened, Disney?

Probably the most embarrassing aspect of this entire mess is that Disney is a company that was once known for their originality in recreating beloved fairy tales. It should be noted that this isn’t the first timethat the company has been accused of plagiarizing existing animation. However, the idea that a company the size of Disney, with its resources and history, could even be in this position is rather sad.

It’s possible that the footage was pitched to them and in an effort to save money, they released it as a teaser. While changing nothing. If this is the case, then it simply smacks of laziness. If this is not what happened… then why take risk? Did Disney really not know or care about how similar that useless teaser was to an existing animation?

The Takeaways from This Situation

What you can take away from this developing situation will likely depend on your exact situation. If you are an animator who feels you’ve been ripped off by a huge corporation, you’ll probably want to consult an attorney. If you’re a huge company like Disney, you should take this as a lesson to never assume that being able to hire the best lawyers in the business can and will protect you from being sued. Especially when someone has a very strong case for copyright infringement.

It’s probably best to get a professional consultation before you make an investment in any project. Have a person or entire department responsible for double-checking patents, existing protects, and so forth.

Make an effort to find out if what you have is far too similar to an existing project can help avoid you avoid a lawsuit.

We need not weep for Disney and its future; this lawsuit will hardly bankrupt them. Despite the eyebrow-raising nature of the suit, it will probably be forgotten by most people within a few months.

But maybe that’s actually unfortunate. A situation like this shines a glaring light on the lack of originality in the movie industry. Any time you have multiple movies with similar plots and practically the same title released in the same year, it’s very disheartening.

If the lack of creativity and authenticity has reached even Disney, then perhaps it should signal a much needed change in how movies are marketed and released.


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