Walt Disney and its subsidiary company Pixar are no strangers to receiving copyright infringement claims. Arguably, as the Walt Disney empire started 96 years ago, in order to keep this juggernaut alive, it uses ideas that it receives from different sources. Unfortunately, the use of these ideas are not always authorised by the individual that it originated from and she/he is not always acknowledged or remunerated for the ideas. This is the situation that Damon Pourshian finds himself in.
Damon Pourshian was a film student in a Canadian university when he created the idea for a film that involved five organs with individual personalities that guide his actions. He developed this into a screenplay called ‘Inside Out’ (‘infringing works’) and this was widely circulated at his university campus.
The Canadian Copyright Act (‘the Act’) states the following:
“3 (1) For the purposes of this Act, copyright, in relation to a work, means the sole right to produce or reproduce the work or any substantial part thereof in any material form whatever, to perform the work or any substantial part thereof in public or, if the work is unpublished, to publish the work or any substantial part thereof, and includes the sole right”
In 2015, Walt Disney and Pixar released a short-animated film with the same story line as Damon Pourshain’s play and called it ‘Inside Out’. This film was the seventh largest grossing film of that year.
In 2017, a child psychologist called Denise Daniels brought a lawsuit claiming breach of contract against Pixar and Walt Disney. However, the lawsuit was eventually dismissed in 2018, due to a finding of no implied contract.
The Ontario Superior Court (‘the Court’) stated that it only has jurisdiction to hear this claim involving Walt Disney and Pixar as defendants. It did not have jurisdiction to bring a claim against any other of Walt Disney’s subsidiary companies e.g. ABC. However, as Disney Shopping was used to sell merchandise relating to the infringing works, the Court had jurisdiction to include it in the lawsuit.
This lawsuit involves the claim of secondary infringement of Damon Pourshian’s screenplay ‘Inside Out’.
The Act states the following in relation to secondary infringement:
(2) It is an infringement of copyright for any person to
(a) sell or rent out,
(b) distribute to such an extent as to affect prejudicially the owner of the copyright,
(c) by way of trade distribute, expose or offer for sale or rental, or exhibit in public,
(d) possess for the purpose of doing anything referred to in paragraphs (a) to (c), or
(e) import into Canada for the purpose of doing anything referred to in paragraphs (a) to (c),
a copy of a work, sound recording or fixation of a performer’s performance or of a communication signal that the person knows or should have known infringes copyright or would infringe copyright if it had been made in Canada by the person who made it.”
Consequently, one can see that through making the infringing works into an animated movie, creating merchandise and selling it constitutes secondary infringement. Only time will tell if the Walt Disney Empire will do what it does best and settle its alleged wrongdoings out of court.