Disney Wins “Zootopia” Copyright Lawsuit Dismissal
Recently, one of Disney’s popular animated films, Zootopia, came under fire when a copyright complaint was filed by Esplanade Productions on behalf of one Gary L. Goldman. The plaintiff alleged that Zootopia, which grossed over $1 billion in sales, was based on the previous work of Goldman and on ideas that had been pitched to Disney in the past. Goldman, of Total Recall and Minority Report fame, stated that he had brought up his ideas on several occasions while consulting on another film with Disney, and that he felt as though Zootopia was far too similar to his work than could be purely coincidental.
Unfortunately for Goldman’s case, however, a California federal judge ruled that there was not enough provided evidence or sufficient similarity between the two productions to be considered a copyright infringement. Additionally, since Esplanade failed to include Goldman’s materials to be reviewed, the judge deemed he had no choice but to side with the defendant, especially after Disney complained about this lack of provided evidence.
Now, both parties are urging the legal system to determine whether the products are even similar enough to merit a case. However, despite the consistent prompting by both the plaintiff and defendant, progress was at a stalemate due to the lack of provided evidence. According to Judge Michael Fitzgerald of the U.S. District Court, the Court was not able to effectively analyze the materials as Esplanade failed to provide or describe the alleged copied materials in any amount of detail that would be required for successful analysis.
However, despite the fact that this was the case, the judge attempted an analysis himself, focusing on the provided plots of both works. The argument offered by the plaintiff is that the characters and plot were both quite similar. Each plot includes a predator and prey and an optimist and a pessimist, but the judge argues that this type of duo exists in any number of cop genre films, including but not limited to Rush Hour, Men in Black, The Heat, etc. It’s become a cliche for a reason.
When looking at the characters, the differences are more prominent than the similarities in terms of the types of animals and the form of animation. While Zootopia featured a fox, Goldman’s work (named “Looney”) featured a hyena, and so on and so forth. All of Zootopia’s animals were clothed while Goldman’s characters were your more traditionally unclothed animals. Additionally, the animation could have not have been more different. While the Zootopia animation stays very true to the Disney aesthetic with bright colors and vibrant appeal, the “Looney” characters were darker and more sombre in appearance. In essence, a very different “feel”. All in all, there was little evidence to suggest that Zootopia had been based on Goldman’s work; at least, this is what was determined by the judge for now.
After reviewing all of the evidence, Judge Michael Fitzgerald determined that there was not enough similarity between Zootopia and “Looney”, or the works of Gary L. Goldman. Therefore, Fitzgerald determined that Disney’s motion to dismiss the case be acknowledged and accepted. While this is most certainly a win for Disney, it may be just a temporary one. Fitzgerald did instate the ability to amend in the event that new evidence was presented, so the case may be far from over.