Disney Settles Years-Long Copyright Infringement Lawsuit Against the Company

in Disney, Movies

Cinderella Castle Partners statue at Walt Disney World

Credit: Disney

After years in court, Disney recently settled a lawsuit for copyright infringement, turning the tables for the company.

The Walt Disney Company is known for fiercely protecting its brand and intellectual properties, going to great lengths to maintain a pristine image, serving lawsuits against individuals and small businesses charging them for trademark and copyright infringement. But surprisingly, the tables were turned for the company, as Disney has been in a years-long legal dispute after being accused of unauthorizedly using animation technology.

Mickey Mouse scared, screenshot from the Mickey Mouse Shorts episode "Wish Upon a Coin"
Credit: Walt Disney Animation Studios

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According to reports, Disney and Rearden LLC — an incubator for fundamental technology, new art, and the interplay between the two — have been in a legal dispute since 2018, when U.S. District Judge Jon Tigar denied Rearden’s bid to claim ownership of the movies and games created by The Walt Disney Company allegedly using facial performance motion capture technology without authorization from Rearden.

Rearden claims Disney gained access to its facial performance motion capture technology by contracting the company DD3, which employed a former Rearden employee. Per Rearden, said employee stole equipment and copies of a copyrighted software program from a secure facility before leaving the company to work for DD3 in 2013. Disney hired DD3 to create lifelike animated characters for hit films, including Beauty and the Beast (2017), Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015), and Guardians of the Galaxy (2014), using MOVA Contour technology — which uses phosphorescent makeup on actors’ faces and synchronized cameras and software to transform expressions and movements into lifelike animations.

Guardians of the Galaxy from Vol. 2
Credit: Marvel Studios

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Following claims of vicarious and contributory copyright infringement, Tigar granted Disney’s motion for summary judgment in 2020 after the studio argued there was no causal link between the use of that technology and profits earned from movies. Rearden has argued that Disney was aware of and could have stopped DD3’s copyright infringement, as The Walt Disney Company had the right to terminate DD3’s services under contracts for the films, adding that Disney would be secondarily liable for the copyright infringement.

Despite these accusations, Disney filed a 33-page motion to dismiss Rearden’s complaints last October, arguing that the plaintiff’s claims were “far-fetched” and in part pertained to ineligible patents, as the complaint fails to state a claim for patent infringement. The motion granted Disney a win in this lawsuit, as Tigar filed an order on Tuesday, ultimately supporting Disney’s position.

Mickey Mouse character meet and greet at Fantasyland in Disneyland Paris
Credit: Disney

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While Disney has prevailed in its fight, Rearden may still file an amended complaint within 21 days to cure the deficiencies the judge identified or face dismissal of the claims.

Inside the Magic will continue to report on this lawsuit.

in Disney, Movies

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