Disney Beats “Santa Paws” Copyright Infringement Claims

By Joseph Mandour on September 21, 2012

disney Los Angeles – A Missouri federal judge on Thursday threw out a copyright infringement suit alleging Disney Enterprises Inc.’s “Santa Paws” movies ripped off an early 1990s illustrated children’s Christmas story of the same name.

Disney’s movies are not substantially similar to the protected expression in the plaintiffs’ short story, Judge Catherine D. Perry wrote in granting Disney summary judgment.

Plaintiffs Ray Harter, Jr., Richard Kearney, and Ed Corno drafted an illustrated children’s story, alternatively called Santa Paws and Christmas Paws, in 1991, and registered copyrights for it in 1992 and 1993 under both titles.

The three engaged the services of William Morris Endeavor Entertainment LLC to market the story, who showed it to several companies including a subsidiary of Disney. Although some of the companies contacted about the story expressed interest in developing a movie based on it, no further action was ever taken to produce it, the judge said.

Disney released a movie called Santa Buddies: The Legend of Santa Paws in 2009, and in 2010 it released another movie called The Search for Santa Paws. The three children’s story authors believed their story was the basis for the movies, and sued Disney and WME in December.

WME was previously dismissed from the case based on lack of personal jurisdiction.

The plaintiffs’ short story and each of Disney’s videos do bear certain similarities, the judge noted. The plots of the story and each of defendants’ movies involve some threat to the Christmas holiday or spirit, which is then saved by a talking Christmas dog, she said.

The plaintiffs’ short story includes a magical icicle, which is used by the story’s antagonist to transform herself into a snowflake and freeze Santa and his reindeer, and ultimately used by the main character to unfreeze Santa and save Christmas.

In Disney’s movies, there is also a magical ice crystal that measures Christmas spirit in the world, and the main characters wear crystals around their neck that have magical powers, including the power to awaken Santa after he goes into a coma.

“Though the presence of a magical icicle or ice crystal is similar, the idea of magic in a Christmas story is not original, nor is the use of ice for that purpose original in a setting such as the North Pole,” Judge Perry ruled.

Apart from the abstract similarities, the remaining elements of the plaintiffs’ short story and Disney’s movies are substantially dissimilar, she said. Most of the similarities, moreover, are not protected by copyright law, she said.

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