California claim says Disney swiped story for ‘Frozen’ teaser

The world of imagination is a serious, sometimes high-risk business for California movie makers. Investments can be unrecoverable when a movie flops. While some filmmakers can afford the financial sting of failure, others place all their bets on a single project.

The Walt Disney Co. is flying high off the success of its billion-dollar animated movie “Frozen.” Far fewer people responded to the debut of an animated film called “The Legend of Sarila,” released at about the same time. The Hollywood Reporter claimed Disney filed and won a trademark infringement suit against the makers of “Sarila,” after Phase 4 Films repackaged the film as “Frozen Land.”

The plaintiff alleged “Frozen Land” contained reworked elements that were similar or, in some cases, identical to “Frozen.” Now, just a few months later, Disney is a defendant in a copyright infringement lawsuit brought by the maker of a 2-D animated short film named “The Snowman.” The complaint states that Disney stole the storyline and other elements to create “Frozen’s” teaser trailer.

The plaintiff’s film and Disney’s teaser trailer both tell the story of snowmen who try to save their lost carrot noses from hungry animals. In “The Snowman,” the main character opposes a group of rabbits while, in the teaser trailer, the antagonist is a reindeer. The events in both films take place on icy ponds and contain other shared features, which the lawsuit claims are similar enough to be considered theft.

The legal claim is not disputing anything in “Frozen.” The complaint is confined to the contents of the teaser trailer. Disney has vowed to defend against the allegations.

Lawyers help the creators of original works evaluate claims of trademark and copyright theft. The legal argument must be solid to obtain a settlement, an injunction or damages. A secondary, but equally important, consideration is whether the pursuit of a claim is worth the effort and expense.

Source: The Hollywood Reporter, “Disney's 'Frozen' Trailer Targeted in Copyright Lawsuit” Eriq Gardner, Mar. 31, 2014