Disney Sued for Billions Over 'Pirates of the Caribbean' Films

'Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End' (2007)

The all-time Memorial Day weekend champ (so far), the last installment of the original Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy took in a whopping $139.8.7 million. It's total global haul ($963 million), however, is topped by predecessor Dead Man's Chest, which took in $1.066 billion.

Royce Mathew, a Florida-based author of supernatural adventure stories, is looking to shine the light on alleged pirating going on at The Walt Disney Company.

He's filed a copyright infringement lawsuit (read the complaint here) that alleges that his work was taken for the lucrative Pirates of the Caribbean films. To succeed in his goal of extracting billions of dollars for the claimed infringements, Mathew will not only have to pass the tough legal test of demonstrating that the movies were substantially similar to his own work, but also that he has brought a timely lawsuit that isn't barred by a previous settlement agreement he made with Disney.

This isn't, after all, the first time that Mathew has sued.

About a decade ago, after seeing the first film that starred Johnny Depp, Mathew began contacting various lawyers and took an advertisement out in Variety looking for someone to represent him. Without much success, Mathew filed a lawsuit against Disney in 2005 on his own behalf. Eventually, Mathew was able to retain an attorney, and during the initial case, Mathew and Disney are said to have engaged in the discovery process with each other.

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Mathew says he provided evidence that his work was taken. In turn, Disney maintained that Pirates of the Caribbean was "independently created," which if true, meant that Mathew had no shot at prevailing on his copyright claim.

In particular, Mathew's new lawsuit says that Disney affirmatively represented that it had independently created "the unique supernatural elements in the POC Movie Franchise that involves pirates transforming and turning into living skeletons under the moonlight due to a hideous curse affecting them."

During the initial lawsuit, Disney published a book about the transformation of a theme park ride to a hit movie and credited theme park artist Marc Davis with some of the essential elements. Disney produced some of Davis' "never-before-published" theme park artwork in discovery.

Mathew says he relied upon this representation, as well as the depositions of others at Disney, in backing off from his copyright claims in 2007 and signing a release form.

Now, six years later, Mathew is again suing, saying that Disney "used false and fraudulent evidence to procure a settlement." As evidence for this, the plaintiff points to a book that was later published in 2009 that allegedly depicted the same scene from Davis' art, this time attributed to another artist named Collin Campbell. The published work also is said to be evidence that Disney had "altered and tampered" with the artwork for the purpose of creating the illusion that it had independently created the element of pirates transforming into living skeletons under the moonlight.

Whether or not that's true, Mathew figures to have to show that his own work was protectable expression -- rather than just an idea -- and that Disney created something substantially similar. But first, Mathew will probably have to convince a judge that his claims aren't barred by the statute of limitations and also that his claims aren't precluded by any release form he signed back in 2007.

On the latter point, his new attorney Michael Wolk anticipates such an obstacle, saying in the lawsuit that because the release agreement was "fraudulently procured," it necessitates rescission, and that "even if the Fraudulently Procured Release Agreement is not rescinded, then the Plaintiff still retains, and the Plaintiff is entitled to enforce, his independently viable copyright infringement claims against the Defendants based upon conduct taking place after May-June 2007." 

He's suing Disney, Buena Vista, Jerry Bruckheimer and others involved in the film.

Disney has yet to comment.

E-mail: eriq.gardner@thr.com; Twitter: @eriqgardner