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The complaint filed on Tuesday in California federal court comes from Esplanade Productions, Inc., which is being represented by the prominent law firm of Quinn Emanuel.
It opens by quoting Zootopia director Byron Howard as saying, “Don’t worry if you feel like you’re copying something, because if it comes through you, it’s going to filter through you and you’re going to bring your own unique perspective to it.”
In the lawsuit, Disney is alleged to have a track record of ripping off work including The Lion King, Toy Story, Monsters Inc., Up, Inside Out and more.
“They did it with Zootopia, too, when they copied Gary L. Goldman’s Zootopia,” states the complaint. “Twice — in 2000 and 2009 — Goldman, on behalf of Esplanade, pitched Defendants his Zootopia franchise, which included a live-action component called Looney and an animated component called Zootopia. He provided a treatment, a synopsis, character descriptions, character illustrations and other materials. He even provided a title for the franchise: ‘Zootopia.’ Instead of lawfully acquiring Goldman’s work, Defendants said they were not interested in producing it and sent him on his way. Thereafter, consistent with their culture of unauthorized copying, Defendants copied Goldman’s work. They copied Goldman’s themes, settings, plot, characters, and dialogue — some virtually verbatim.”
The complaint even illustrates alleged copying of artwork:
According to the complaint, Goldman has worked with Disney before. In 2007, he is said to have been hired to write a screenplay called Blaze based on a Stan Lee comic. Afterwards, Lee allegedly told him, “You’re now my favorite writer!”
As for Zootopia, a film about a bunny who moves to a big city and unravels a conspiracy with the aid of a con artist fox, the lawsuit claims that its source is unmistakable given Goldman’s detailed work offering descriptions about characters and other elements.
The lawsuit states that Goldman pitched former Disney executive and Mandeville Films’ CEO David Hoberman, at Disney’s offices in 2000, and that everyone at the meeting “understood that writers pitch ideas and materials to studios and producers in confidence in order to sell those ideas and materials for financial compensation.”
Hoberman responded favorably, continues the complaint, but his company ultimately passed.
Nine years later, Goldman tried again to pitch his project.
“At the time, Goldman was working on Blaze with Brigham Taylor who, Esplanade is informed and believes, was Walt Disney Pictures’ Executive Vice President of Production and Development at the time,” continues the complaint. “Because Goldman had this existing relationship with Taylor, Goldman offered to pitch the Goldman Zootopia to Taylor on behalf of Defendants, and Taylor accepted Goldman’s offer. On or about February 12, 2009, Goldman met with Taylor at Defendants’ offices in Burbank, California.”
Disney is then alleged to have begun work on its own Zootopia and reproduced substantially similar expression in alleged violation of plaintiff’s copyrights. The lawsuit handled by attorney Jeffrey McFarland also claims breach of implied contract, breach of confidence and unfair competition. Disney’s Zootopia grossed more than $1 billion worldwide in theaters, putting substantial damages on the line. Esplanade wants an injunction plus monetary damages including of the punitive kind. (Read the full complaint.)
A Disney spokesperson responds, “Mr. Goldman’s lawsuit is riddled with patently false allegations. It is an unprincipled attempt to lay claim to a successful film he didn’t create, and we will vigorously defend against it in court.”