It wasn’t exactly a super hero aggregation like The Avengers, but a federal judge in Los Angeles has thrown the likes of Sherlock Holmes, Tarzan, Superman, and James Bond at a plaintiff to tell her, for a second time, to throw in the Towle with her copyright infringement claims against Walt Disney Co. over its animated hit Inside Out.
U.S. District Judge Philip S. Gutierrez, in Los Angeles, recently dismissed anew an action filed against Disney by Denise Daniels, a broadcaster who has built up parenting and child development expertise. She first made claims against the $850-million Pixar blockbuster in 2017, asserting then that the movie improperly cribbed from her work.
The 2015 animated comedy-drama film is set in the mind of a young girl, where five personified emotions try to lead her through life as her parents move to a new city, and she must adjust to her new surroundings, dealing with “the little voices” in all our heads (portrayed by a cast including Amy Poehler, Mindy Kaling, Bill Hader, and Lewis Black).
Daniels claimed that the film’s five personifications of emotions – Joy, Sadness, Fear, Disgust, and Anger – were copied from her “Moodsters,” a children’s brand designed to teach kids the fundamentals of feelings. The Moodsters are five little detectives who use special sleuthing skills to help children solve the mysteries of feelings. Each Moodster personifies a basic emotion that all children experience including being happy, angry, loving, sad, and scared.
But an unhappy, sad, and angry Disney fired back, arguing that the Moodsters characters were ineligible for copyright because they were little recognized before the film, their key and distinguishing factors mostly appearing just in a production “bible” and a little viewed online video.
Gutierrez agreed, and dismissed the case in January, holding that the Moodsters did not satisfy copyright law’s “physical, recognizable, and distinctive” criteria. He also gave Daniels permission to amend her suit.
She and her lawyers did so, this time adding in “Jelly Jam” characters, a second-generation cast that she claimed could be copyright protected and helped to support her notion that her Moodsters also had the reach and durability to merit copyright.
Gutierrez disagreed, dismissing the new suit on May 9, and repeating that the updated version of the Moodsters not only failed to meet copyright law standards but actually hurt, rather than helped, Daniels’ case: “The underlying traits that remain the same do not give rise to the instant recognition enjoyed by James Bond or Godzilla,” he said, referring to DC Comics v. Towle, 802 F. 3d 1012 – Court of Appeals, 9th Circuit 2015, and the high degree of familiarity characters must enjoy to be considered for copyright. “It demonstrates that the majority of the characters’ traits, including such basic qualities as their names, are fluid.”
Through her attorney, Patrick M. Arenz of Robins Kaplan LLP, Daniels has filed an appeal.