‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ copyright infringement lawsuit reinstatedPosted On: Jul. 23, 2020 2:05 PM CST
A federal appeals court on Wednesday reinstated a copyright infringement lawsuit filed by two screenwriters and a producer against the Walt Disney Co. in connection with its film Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl.
Screenwriters A. Lee Alfred II and Ezequiel Martinez Jr. charged in their complaint that they had developed the original spec screenplay Pirates of the Caribbean in 2000 while working with Disney on another project but were told the company was passing on the Pirates project, according to the complaint in Arthur Lee Alfred II; et al. v. The Walt Disney Co.; et al.
The 2003 movie became the first in a series of Pirates of the Caribbean films.
The screenwriters and producer Tova Laiter filed suit in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles charging copyright infringement. The district court dismissed the lawsuit, and it was reinstated by a unanimous three-judge appeals court panel, which stated the dismissal was premature.
“At the pleading stage, district courts apply the ‘extrinsic test’ for similarity, which asks whether the defendant’s work shares objective similarities of specific expressive elements with the allegedly infringed piece,” the ruling said.
“We agree with Plaintiffs that the screenplay shares sufficient similarities with the film to survive a motion to dismiss,” it said.
“The Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl film and the screenplay both begin with a prologue that takes place ten years prior to the main story; introduce the main characters during a battle at gunpoint; involve treasure stories that take place on islands and in jewel-filed caves; include past stories of betrayal by a former first mate; contain fearful moments driven by skeleton crews; focus on the redemption of a young, rogue private and share some similarities in dialogue and tone,” it said.
“To be sure, there are striking differences between the two works as well – but the selection and arrangement of the similarities between them is more than de minimis,” the panel said, in reversing the lower court and reinstating the litigation.
The panel said the lower court dismissed the suit because it concluded that many of the elements of the two works “are protected generic, pirate-movie tropes. But, at this stage of the litigation, it is difficult to know whether such elements are indeed unprotectable material.
Attorneys in the case could not be reached for comment.
Last month, the 9th Circuit also held that a Los Angeles district court’s dismissal of a copyright infringement case against a Walt Disney Co. unit in connection with the Oscar-winning film “The Shape of Water” was premature.