| | | | | |
Douglas Panzer
February 20, 2015

Frozen Copyright Suit is a Bit of a Fixer-Upper

Posted By Douglas Panzer @ 1:19 pm
Filed under: Copyrights,Movies

Actually, it’s beyond fixing. But let me back up.

I frequently receive calls, questions or comments claiming that famous creative works infringe the copyright in a lesser known work. Whether it’s a Katy Perry song, a Stephen King book or a Disney movie, others frequently believe they are entitled to some credit (and compensation) for the origination of the idea behind the famous creative work. And therein lies the most widely held misunderstanding of copyright law; that the idea itself may be protected at all.

“It is a fundamental premise of copyright law that an author can protect only the expression of an idea, but not the idea itself.”

See Kay Berry, Inc. v. Taylor Gifts, Inc., 421 F.3d 199, 208 (3d Cir. 2005).

On Thursday, a New Jersey federal district court dismissed a copyright suit brought by self-published author Isabella Tanikumi against Disney, which alleged that Disney’s mega-huge-ginormous hit movie Frozen was a ripoff of Tanikumi’s book Yearnings of the Heart. Barring some massive lapse of legal understanding by the court, the case was doomed from its inception.

Tanikumi alleged such similarities between the two works as the love between two sisters, one of the sister’s love for a “dark haired tall and fair man,” and themes of love under the moonlight. These themes are precisely that – themes. However, copyright law protects actual creative expression of themes; not the themes themselves. We call this the “idea-expression dichotomy.”

In dismissing the case, Judge Martini wrote that “Plaintiff only alleges that Disney plagiarized broad thematic elements of her memoir…The themes that both appear in Frozen and Yearnings of the Heart are expressed in vastly different ways. The setting, plot, and characters have no close similarities. No lay person could find that Disney improperly appropriated from Yearnings of the Heart because copyright law does not protect the generic, thematic elements of Tanikumi’s work.” The works may share ideas, but the do not express those ideas in the same way.

So, chalk this one up to an easy read for the court and a reminder to all that copyright protects original expression – not ideas.

Read the original opinion here:

Frozen Opinion: Tanikumi v. The Walt Disney Company, Civ. No. 14-5877

* indicates required