Disney Accused of Pillaging 'Pirates of the Caribbean' Concepts in New Copyright Suit

The writers claim they created the first "funny" pirate and Disney copied the character for Johnny Depp's Jack Sparrow.

The Walt Disney Company is being sued for allegedly looting the idea for its billion-dollar Pirates of the Caribbean franchise by two writers who claim they conceived the silly swashbuckler portrayed by Johnny Depp. 

A. Lee Alfred II and Ezequiel Martinez Jr. say Disney stole their original spec screenplay to create Pirates. While the suit acknowledges there is no shortage of pirate lore, it claims their work creatively extended beyond the tropes of fearsome scoundrels in search of treasure. 

"Pirates in film, while handsome or good-looking, have not been depicted as having a sense of humor, until 'Captain Jack Sparrow' in the Pirates franchise," writes attorney Elizabeth M. Thomas in the complaint filed Tuesday in Colorado federal court. "This 'new' pirate, who is funny, not feared, and repeatedly referred to as a 'good man' has not only created a new pirate character, but created a Pirates franchise that has been wholly centered on this new pirate character."

Alfred and Martinez say Sparrow is a ripoff of their conception of Davy Jones in a screenplay called Pirates of the Caribbean, which they say was submitted to Disney by their producer Tova Laiter in 2000. The pair was already working with the company on a previously submitted spec script called Red Hood, according to the complaint. Because of that relationship they envisioned their pirate script as the backstory of the Disney ride of the same name. 

Disney passed on the project, but the writers say their screenplay wasn't returned to them for more than two years — after Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl was already in production.

The writers say the film and the subsequent sequels blatantly copy themes, settings, plot, characters and dialogue from their script. (Read the complaint here.)

This isn't the first time Disney has been sued over Pirates. The company in May beat a long-gestating lawsuit from an author who claimed he created supernatural elements that were used in the franchise. 

A Disney spokesman issued this statement in response to the suit: "This complaint is entirely without merit, and we look forward to vigorously defending against it in court."