September 20, 2012 6:30pm PT by Matthew Belloni
Disney Wins Dismissal of 'Santa Paws' Copyright Lawsuit
A federal judge has dismissed a copyright lawsuit that claimed Disney stole the idea behind its direct-to-DVD movies about a dog who helps Santa Claus save Christmas.
Ray Harter, Richard Kearney and Ed Corno sued in December in U.S. District Court in Missouri alleging that the Disney movies Santa Buddies: The Legend of Santa Paws and The Search for Santa Paws are unauthorized copies of their short story and script, Santa Paws: The Story of Santa's Dog. The plaintiffs claimed they conceived of their Santa Paws in 1991.
In their story, Santa Claus receives a gift dog, who embarks on a rescue mission to reignite Christmas spirit amid threats from an evil ice witch and her magic icicle. In the 2009 Disney film, Santa Paws was alleged to have joined the Air Bud dogs to stop the thawing of a magical icicle that threatens Christmas.
The men sued for copyright infringement Dec. 19 against Disney and asserted claims of breach of fudiciary duty and negligence against WME, whose former agents John Ferriter and Barry Jeffery allegedly shopped the project around to studios. (WME was later dismissed from the case.)
But in a ruling issued Thursday, U.S. district court judge Catherine Perry granted summary judgment in favor of the studio, ruling that the short story Santa Paws is not substantially similar to Disney's Santa Paws.
The court acknowledged that the short story and the Disney movies had some elements in common: they all feature a threat to Christmas and a talking dog; all feature a dog named Paws, Santa Paws or Puppy Paws; they all have magical icicles; etc. There also is some similar dialogue. However, "apart from these abstract similarities, the remaining elements of the plaintiffs' short story and defendants' movies are substantially dissimilar," the court notes. "Furthermore, most of the aforementioned similarities between plaintiffs' short story and defendants' works are not protected by copyright law."
The court also dismissed a civil conspiracy claim.
"It appears the Court's opinion was well thought out, consistent with legal precedent and crafted eloquently," says Albert Watkins, a lawyer for the plaintiffs. "That being said, my clients disagree with the subjective findings giving rise to a resounding victory for Disney. Tinker Bell should be very proud. Alternative appellate action is being evaluated."
Disney sdid not respond to a request for comment. The studio was represented by Louis Petrich and a team from LA's Leopold Petrich & Smith and a team from Bryan Cave.