In a decision released February 19, 2015, a federal judge in New Jersey dismissed the lawsuit alleging that Disney’s Frozen violated the copyright in “Yearnings of the Heart,” a book the author, Amy Gonzalez (who wrote under the pen name of Isabella Tanikumi), described as being her “life story.”
As previously noted, Disney moved to dismiss the lawsuit calling it “absurd.”
After recounting Disney’s arguments, the judge explained that.
Plaintiff only alleges that Disney plagiarized broad thematic elements of her memoir. Most of the 18 similarities in her letter to Disney are tenuous at best. The closest similarities are the generic themes of intense sisterly love and the concealment of a personal characteristic of which the protagonist is ashamed. There are also some minor thematic similarities involving the moon’s connection to romance, mountainous settings, and betrayal by a lover.
Copyright law protects expression, not ideas. Kay Berry, Inc. v. Taylor Gifts, Inc., 421 F.3d 199, 208 (3d Cir. 2005). (“It is a fundamental premise of copyright law that an author can protect only the expression of an idea, but not the idea itself.”). “[G]eneral plot ideas and themes lie in the public domain and are not protected by copyright law.” Winstead v. Jackson, No. CIV.A.10-5783 SRC, 2011 WL 4407450, at *2 (D.N.J. Sept. 20, 2011) aff’d, 509 F. App’x 139 (3d Cir. 2013).
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 ruling was not a surprise. Ms. Gonzales was given time and the opportunity to respond to Disney’s motion to dismiss. She could have amended her complaint to more specifically describe the elements of her story that Frozen copied. She did none of these, though to be honest, it is hard to imagine what she could have said to prevent the court from saying she needed to let it go.
(Photos by the DIS)
Category: Disney World