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John Antony has filed a lawsuit against Disney Enterprises, claiming that Disney Press published Stan Lee's Zodiac Legacy juvenile fiction book in violation of copyright laws. Though Antony didn't file for copyright ownership and protection with the U.S. Copyright Office until just recently, he claims that he still has legal intellectual property rights, and expects to prevail in the matter. As such, he seeks damages and a share of the book's profits.
Zodiac Legacy -- a Case of Gemini Works?
In this case, Antony pitched his idea for a "Zodiac Regiment 12" movie to a Disney representative, and then handed over a copy of the screenplay and biography of the movie characters. Antony never heard from Disney again, and figured his screenplay didn't make the grade. But in 2016, Antony learned that Disney had published the "Zodiac Legacy" book series, co-authored by Lee with Stuart Moore and Andie Tong. Antony found the two works substantially similar.
Copyright Infringement Difficult to Prove
Antony did not register his copyright for "Zodiac Regiment 12" with the U.S. Copyright Office until October 2018. Presumably Antony's work are copyrightable, which is defined as an "original" work in a "fixed" tangible medium of expression. The threshold for originality is low and seemingly unchallenged here. And the idea was in a tangible medium, since it was written down in the form of a screenplay.
To prevail in this lawsuit, Antony will need to prove that Disney stole his idea, which is historically been very difficult to prove. According to the lawsuit, the two works use "a majority of the same key plot elements, character devices, and story arc, cover to cover." And although there are many unsuccessful lawsuits of this nature, Antony's attorney believes her client's lawsuit is legitimate. "When you do a reading side by side there are some overlapping things that can't be coincidence." The similarities will be up to a judge to decide.
Difficult to Succeed Against Disney on Desny Claim
In addition to similarities, timing may be at issue as well. To prevail, Antony may have to prove that he told Disney he was looking for compensation for the screenplay prior to sharing it with them. This may turn on a lot of out of court statements that may be inadmissible. Called a Desny Claim (which ironically sounds a lot like "Disney"), a recipient of an idea must know the condition on which it is receiving the idea before it knows the idea, and must voluntarily accept the disclosure of the idea. Therefore, even if the storylines are similar, Antony's attorney still has her work cut out for her.
If you think that your copyrighted material has been used without your permission, and you are interested in learning your rights and potentially issuing a demand letter or filing a lawsuit, contact a local intellectual property attorney. This field of law can be confusing, and a legal veteran will be able to guide you through the legalese and subtle nuances to hopefully get you the outcome you seek.