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Disney Loses 'Frozen' Summary Judgment Motion

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By Christopher Coble, Esq. on April 17, 2015 3:59 PM

Last March, Disney was sued by Kelley Wilson for copyright infringement. She claims that the trailer for Frozen copied her short film The Snowman.

As the judge notes, both the trailer and the short film are about a snowman who loses his nose on a frozen pond. The snowman must battle an animal who also wants the carrot nose. The animal wins the carrot nose but eventually returns it to the snowman.

Disney previously tried to have the case dismissed, but was rejected by the judge. A second attempt to get the lawsuit thrown out, in the form of a motion for summary judgment, has also been rejected.

Motion to Dismiss

Disney first tried to get the lawsuit dismissed. In a motion to dismiss, the defendant claims that even if all the allegations in the complaint are true, the plaintiff hasn't stated any legitimate claim for relief.

For example, the elements for copyright infringement are: 1) the plaintiff is the owner of a valid copyright; and 2) the defendant copied original elements from the copyrighted work.

If Wilson didn't claim in her complaint that she owned a valid copyright to The Snowman, and that Disney copied it, the judge would have dismissed her case.

Usually, when a case is dismissed, the plaintiff has the right to refile the case to make sure she alleges all the necessary elements for her claim.

Motion for Summary Judgment

Unlike a motion to dismiss, a motion for summary judgment can be brought by both sides. In a motion for summary judgment, the asking party claims that, considering the undisputed facts, no reasonable jury could rule against it.

Disney's Motion

Disney tried to show that its employees could not have copied The Snowman because none of them have ever even seen the film. However, the judge found that The Snowman was screened at the 2011 San Francisco International Film Festival, which several Pixar and Disney employees attended.

Here, the judge declined to grant Disney's motion for summary judgment. The judge found that a reasonable jury could decide either way on whether or not the Frozen trailer and The Snowman were substantially similar.

So, the case will go to trial, tentatively scheduled for October. Or, Disney could let it go and offer to settle.

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