A U.S. District Court for the Central District of California ruled on May 13th that Walt Disney Co.’s screenplays for the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies were not similar enough to a previously rejected screenplay. Two writers and a producer filed a complaint in 2017 accusing Disney of lifting elements from their screenplay, which they submitted to Disney in 2000. Disney subsequently rejected the screenplay.
The suit alleged that after the rejection of their work, Disney went on to produce five films of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise that lifted similar elements from their screenplay. However, Bloomberg reports that the court found fundamental differences between the screenplays and that the similarities that did exist were either too common or those of other generic pirate stories.
Proving copyright infringement
Copyright protection exists to protect the rights of authors, creators, musicians, artists and more to their work. When another party infringes on this right and misuses the work without consent, the copyright holder may pursue a lawsuit to correct the action. According to the Small Business Chronicle, penalties for infringement can depend on the case, including on:
- The nature of the misuse or infringement
- How much of the work was used
- Whether the infringing party used the work for profit
In order to prove copyright infringement, the holder of the copyright must have valid protection in place for their work and show how the other party illegally used their work.
Similarities from the original screenplay
In Disney’s case, Bloomberg states that the court’s decision underscores how copyright infringement cases can fail early on if the judge does not find the works to be “substantially similar.”
The two writers and producer alleged that Disney copied their themes, plot, characters, dialogue and more from their 2000 screenplay. More specifically, they allege that the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies pull from their screenplay’s portrayal of pirates as humorous and good-natured, rather than the more traditional depiction of scary, merciless men.
However, the court ultimately decided against the plaintiffs, alleging that the similarities between the works seemed to be “random, scattered similarities,” rather than intentional or stolen concepts.