Disney Prevails in ‘Zootopia’ Copyright Lawsuit

Judge finds that complaint failed to allege sufficient facts, but allows leave to amend the suit

Disney has locked up a win in the copyright lawsuit brought against the company over its hit film “Zootopia.” At least for now.

A judge handed Disney a victory in a legal papers filed Tuesday and obtained by TheWrap, granting the company’s motion to dismiss the suit, which was filed in March.

However, the judge also allowed leave to amend the suit.

Disney was sued in March by writer Gary Goldman’s Esplanade Productions, Inc. which contended that Goldman pitched his idea for a “Zootopia” franchise twice, only to be rejected.

According to the suit, Goldman pitched Disney his “Zootopia” concept in 2000 and 2009.

“He provided a treatment, a synopsis, character descriptions, character illustrations, and other materials. He even provided a title for the franchise: ‘Zootopia.’ Instead of lawfully acquiring Goldman’s work, Defendants said they were not interested in producing it and sent him on his way. Thereafter, consistent with their culture of unauthorized copying, Defendants copied Goldman’s work,” the suit read.

However, in Tuesday’s legal papers, Judge Michael W. Fitzgerald said that the suit failed to “allege sufficient facts.”

“In this action, as in every action, it is the plaintiff’s obligation to allege sufficient facts, if proved true, to permit a jury to rule in the plaintiff’s favor,” Tuesday’s papers read. “Esplanade has not met that burden here.”

“The Motion is GRANTED — with leave to amend, of course. The crux of the difficulty here is that Esplanade has chosen not to attach the allegedly infringed materials to the Complaint,” the decision continued. “The allegations themselves actively obfuscate the details of the infringement. The Complaint describes the alleged similarities at such a high level of generality that it is impossible for the Court to evaluate whether the alleged copying was sufficiently specific to be protectable or merely a series of unprotectable scénes-á-faire. The allegations thus fail to state a plausible claim.”

After the suit was filed, a Disney spokesman told TheWrap in a statement that Goldman’s suit is “riddled with patently false allegations.” “It is an unprincipled attempt to lay claim to a successful film he didn’t create, and we will vigorously defend against it in court.”

Pamela Chelin contributed to this report.