Court Ices Writer’s Copyright Infringement Case vs. Disney’s “Frozen”

An author of children's books was dealt a fatal blow in her copyright infringement suit over the movie "Frozen" when a district court in California granted Disney's motion to dismiss. Muneefa Abdullah, author of the 2007 story “The Snow Princess,” sued Disney and others, claiming that Disney had access to her story due to its worldwide release and that 17 elements of "Frozen" were substantially similar to her work.

“The Snow Princess” is a story about princess abducted by an evil mountain witch and rescued by two princes. “Frozen” was a 2013 full-length animated movie about a princess with special powers who learns to control them using self-acceptance and love, and emphasized the power of sisterly love.

The district court did not directly address the issue of access, saying that "as currently pled, Plaintiff's two theories of access are not plausible." Regarding substantial similarity, the court ruled that when the two works were compared “no reasonable jury could conclude that there are substantial similarities in the plot, sequence of events, characters, mood, pace, setting, theme, or dialogue...” The court noted that any alleged similarities in plot and sequence of events were either "scenes a faire to fairy tales or expressed in vastly different ways, " and that none of the characters in the stories bore any resemblance to each other.

The case shows the degree of similarities between works that is necessary for copyright infringement plaintiffs to survive substantive motions, and how important the doctrine of scenes a faire is in substantial similarity analysis.

Abdullah v. Walt Disney Co. (C.D. Cal., March 14, 2016)

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