(Denver Post) Screenwriters who claim they presented a screenplay to The Walt Disney Company called “Pirates of the Caribbean” in 1999 are suing Disney Enterprises in U.S. District Court in Denver claiming copyright infringement.
The federal case was filed Tuesday on behalf of screenwriters Arthur Lee Alfred II and Ezequiel Martinez and producer Tova Laiter by Colorado Springs attorneys Elizabeth Thomas, Ryan Gillman and Gregory Maceau.
The plaintiffs, who live in Colorado, are seeking jury awards for copyright infringement including punitive damages and injunctive relief to restrain Disney and its numerous affiliates from further infringement, the lawsuit says.
Disney has not responded to an email seeking comment on the lawsuit.
Disney pirated the plaintiff’s expression of themes, settings, dialogue, characters, plot, mood and sequence of events from their original spec screenplay, according to the lawsuit. Disney pilfered the plaintiff’s creation to capitalize on films, video games, theme park attractions, merchandising, casino games and literature, the lawsuit says.
In particular, the screenwriters claim they “created an entirely new genre of pirate, which had never been used previously. A concept, such as Captain Jack Sparrow as a new funny pirate, who is not feared and is repeatedly referred to as a good man. The screenwriters’ intent was to veer from the historical depiction of pirates to create an entirely new concept of a pirate.”
The lawsuit says, “every young screenwriter dreams of writing that fresh and creative script that can catch the attention of a major film studio. The opportunity to have a major film studio, such as defendants, take a screenwriter’s original spec screenplay and turn the work into a major motion picture.”
But like a long list of other screenwriters who have presented their ideas to Disney, the plaintiffs’ experience was not ideal, the lawsuit says. The lawsuit also claims Disney has a long history of disregarding copyright law and profiting from the work of others and cites similar complaints about other Disney projects including “Lion King,” “Toy Story,” “Monsters, Inc.,” “Up,” “Frozen,” “Inside Out” and “Zootopia.”
The plaintiffs seek to hold Disney responsible for the theft of intellectual property, claiming the screenwriters’ “dream quickly turned into a nightmare,” when Disney took their ideas and created a billion-dollar franchise without compensating them, the lawsuit says.
Laiter submitted “Red Hood,” written by Alfred and Martinez, to Disney in October 1999. Red Hood was separate from “Pirates of the Caribbean,” according to the lawsuit.
Disney chose to produce “Red Hood” and invited Alfred and Martinez to work with Disney employees Brigham Taylor, Josh Harmon and Michael Haynes on the development, the lawsuit said.
Without a completed contract, Alfred and Martinez made monthly trips to Disney without compensation.
“These young writers, fresh out of film school, were ecstatic to work with defendants,” the lawsuit says.
As attorneys worked on a contract, the plaintiffs trusted Disney, the lawsuit says. Between October 1999 and October 2000, they worked with Disney’s creative team on “Red Hood.”
Alfred and Martinez also developed an idea for a separate screenplay entitled “Pirates of the Spanish Main.”
They later retitled it “Pirates of the Caribbean” when Alfred and Martinez realized the Disneyland ride by that name had “no story” behind it.” They began incorporating the basic elements of the Pirates of the Caribbean ride into the screenplay while creating a new story with a supernatural element.
The final draft of “Pirates of the Caribbean,” was finished and submitted to Disney and other studios, directors and producers in the summer of 2000. They also created a sizzle reel or demo reel with their original artwork and gave it to Disney employee Taylor on Aug. 9, 2000.
Taylor told the plaintiffs that Disney had long considered creating a movie for the Disneyland ride Pirates of the Caribbean, but “had no treatment or script.”
But when Alfred and Martinez met with the Disney employees to discuss “Red Hood,” they saw their screenplay of “Pirates of the Caribbean” on a coffee table. They were quickly ushered out of the office and when they returned, the screenplay was no longer there.
A week later, Disney wrote a check to them for the “Red Hood” screenplay, but the screenwriters were never invited back to work on the separate “Pirates of the Caribbean” screenplay.
Taylor later called and said Disney would pass on their screenplay and project. But he did not mention that Disney was going forward with the “Pirates of the Caribbean” project, the lawsuit says.
Studios customarily return screenplays to writers immediately after they reject a project, but that never happened, the lawsuit says. Two years later, on Nov. 26, 2002, Disney returned the screenplay. Seven months after that, the first pirates film, “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl,” was released on July 9, 2003.
When they saw the movie, Alfred and Martinez noticed numerous similarities between it and their original “Pirates of the Caribbean” screenplay, the lawsuit says. The movie, like their screenplay, included a ghost-figure Davy Jones.
Each subsequent film in the franchise has likewise followed the themes Alfred and Martinez created, the lawsuit claims. Disney also copied their plot, theme, dialogue (frequently verbatim), mood, setting, pace and sequence, the lawsuit says. “Defendants never obtained a license from plaintiffs to prepare reproductions of plaintiffs’ original works of authorship.”
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