Disney Tells Court to Shush 'Muppet Babies' Reboot Suit

MUPPET BABIES Still - Publicity - H 2016
Courtesy of Disney Junior

Disney says the idea for Muppet Babies was first shown in a 1983 dream sequence and the alleged copyrights of a screenwriter who sued over the 2018 reboot are equally imaginary.

Jeffrey Scott in October sued Disney because its reboot of the series allegedly misappropriates elements of the original series production bible that he created, including the show’s nursery setting and the child versions of the characters, and because he pitched a reboot to the company in 2016.

In a motion to dismiss filed Wednesday, Disney argues the California federal court where he filed the complaint lacks jurisdiction and Scott lacks standing and failed to state a claim.

"Scott concedes that he was only brought on by Marvel Productions Ltd. ('Marvel') to work on the Muppet Babies cartoon television show after the concept had already been developed by Henson Associates Inc. ('HA')," writes attorney Erin Cox in the motion, which is posted in full below. "HA authorized development of Muppet Babies only on a work-for-hire basis; either that applies to Scott (and he has no copyright claim) or he was working without authorization (and anything he developed was an unauthorized derivative work, which cannot be copyrighted).

Among other defenses, Disney also alleges that Scott can't claim ownership of the copyright because he didn't disclose it as an intellectual property asset in his 2003 bankruptcy. The filings mentioned eight screenplays and 25 television series ideas, all of which were marketed for sale without success. Disney argues that he didn't disclose the copyright for the 194 Muppet Babies bible because he "never had any such copyright" — and, even if he did, because he didn't disclose it the ownership would belong to the bankruptcy estate.

All that aside, Disney also argues that his claims fail on the merits because none of his "contributions to the underlying intellectual property are original, copyrightable, and non-trivial, or substantially similar to the Muppet Babies series of 2018." It was Jim Henson, Disney says, who actually created the concept of toddler-aged muppets. They first appeared in a dream sequence of 1983's The Muppets Take Manhattan and the idea was further developed in a March 1984 brainstorming meeting — some notes from which are quoted verbatim in the series bible.

Because his copyright claim fails, Disney argues, the federal court lacks jurisdiction and the complaint should be dismissed.