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Dan Turner

4 Years Ago

Artists - What's It Like To Sue Disney?

"If anyone had asked me a year ago if I thought this case would drag out for months, I would have said no. I naively believed that this case would be settled in a few weeks."

Two Seattle artists are accusing Disney and Target of using their art without permission on a T-Shirt.

Should they have sued Disney and Target for copyright infringement? The proper legal advice in this situation would have been "Forget it! Go home and find a creative way to make lemons out of lemonade."

But, lawyers being lawyers, the suit went forward. To date, the two artists/plaintiffs have had to sell their home and studio to finance the lawsuit and are teetering on the edge of bankruptcy. They have so far raised $19,850 through their lawsuit fundraising site. Their goal is $40,000. The trial is scheduled for September of 2013.

After battling corporate lawyers for a year already, one of the artists states that their situation "virtually feels impossible."

Why oh why are they doing it? Their official stance: "It's the right thing to do."

Is it?

The details, for those interested:

You may donate if you like.

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Mike Savad

4 Years Ago

and this is why big companies will always win. they will wait and wait until you have no money. but in the end even if they win - what will they win? they can get away with it because they can. they can raise a million bucks, and they will still lose. losing your house isn't worth a t-shirt.

---Mike Savad


Mike Savad

4 Years Ago

something about that story seems fishy to me. i couldn't find the design, and i can donate? seems odd.

---Mike Savad


Dan Turner

4 Years Ago

Go here:

Their design is on top, Disney's is in the middle, labeled "T-shirt".


Gives credence to the old adage to "Pick and choose your battles wisely".


Mike Savad

4 Years Ago

the real lesson here is, don't put big pictures online - i found pretty big pictures on it. and while it's a cute design, they can still sell it. and i doubt so much, with the money they spent, that those shirts are equal to that.

---Mike Savad


Jeffrey Campbell

4 Years Ago

I have the utmost respect for people who fight for what they believe in, it's been happening for thousands of years.

Two sides enter for battle - one leaves victorious.


Tom Roderick

4 Years Ago

ART is Work
Selling IT
is ART



Not so fast, Jeffrey.

This isn't about fighting for that in which you believe...unless, of course, you happen to worship at the altar of the god of gluttony, the god of avarice - the god of greed.

In 2006, I shared an enlightening experience with a film producer and Walt Disney Pictures when the latter released the second installment of Pirates of the Caribbean, called Dead Man's Chest.

In 2003, a colleague of mine - an independent film producer in Hollywood - took my Planet Zootopia-inspired spec script, leave-behinds, storyboards, character sketches and original oil paintings on a pitching trek that led him, with my permission, to Ron Howard at Imagine Entertainment, Universal Studios, Sony Pictures and, though without my permission, to Disney's Feature Animation in Burbank.

Every one of these encounters ended with an apology and a variation on a familiar line, "We're going to take a pass on it," which is a very polite, if not safe way of saying, "Though we like what you've done, it's not right for our company at this time, but we'd like to keep the door open to you, just in case."

When the release date for Dead Man's Chest rolled around, I got a call from my producer in Hollywood.

He asked, "Did you see it yet?"

I told him that I had seen it earlier in the day.

He said, "And?!"

"And what?" I replied.

" can't let them get away with it," he whispered.

He was talking about my not letting Jerry Bruckheimer, Terry Rosio and Ted Elliot get away stealing my stuff, which they had...sort of.

The copyright-protected spec script and character designs that I had entrusted to my colleague made the rounds at Disney, some of which were copied, some mimicked and some turned up as members of the crew of Davy Jones' The Flying Dutchman, along with certain storyline elements almost identical to those in my own script.

My colleague told me that if I wouldn't sue, I should at least get a settlement: "They're a BIG company with DEEP pockets, " he said.

I told him no, I wouldn't sue, nor would I settle.

"You see, it's like this," I told him. "One day, I'd very much like to work with Disney."

After that, he let it go...which is why I'm still peddling my wares on the streets of Orlando, Melbourne and Ann Arbor, to name only a few.


Christine Till

4 Years Ago

....... Their official stance: "It's the right thing to do."

If there wouldn't be people like these two artists we would still live like the poor did before the French Revolution in regards to our rights.
So yes, I admire them for standing up for what they believe (as Americans are supposed to), and I donated to their cause.
Thanks for telling us about it, Dan.


Did I forget to mention how flattered I was to learn that Walt Disney Pictures, having such a high opinion of my stuff, would actually use some of it in a film that went on to gross (internationally) over one billion dollars at the box office...and that doesn't even take into account the merchandising end of it.

I just have to be patient...


John Crothers

4 Years Ago

Another question would be...

What's it liked to be sued BY Disney?

"Poor artist"..."Poor faceless corporation".

"Every work is original"... "everything has been done".

Seems like everyone is a thief. Let's just kill the copyright and be done with it.


Jeffrey Campbell

4 Years Ago

Thanks, Patrick. Perhaps I am misunderstanding your statements.

Your statement.....

"One day, I'd very much like to work with Disney."

Was that the fight you believed in?


Did you really want to sue their pockets and restrained from fighting them?

Things can be literally be taken both ways. I took it as your fight was not to fight at all.


Mario Donk

4 Years Ago

As far as Disney is concerned, their policy is they do not accept un solicited works, If they do they wave any responsibility that they may have used what they saw be it ever so innocently as they could well have been influenced by the work presented. So the moral is (Apparently) not to show Disney any un asked for work and if you do, do not be surprised if its used. I am not sure how sound their argument is but its one they use and seem to get away with.



In a world attuned to the lure of instant gratification, it's not hard to understand why anyone might fall prey to a litigious solution rather than first consider the bigger picture and the importance of establishing one's significant place in it.

The battle in which I choose to 'fight,' as you put it, is the one that offers as a reward a seat at the table, rather than a few bones with which to temporarily fill my pauper's bowl.


Loree Johnson

4 Years Ago

Oh, but try to use THEIR stuff and they rally the troops. I remember back in the 90's when Disney actually took the position that daycare centers could not show their movies because it was "commercial use." They backed off when parents started a Boycott Disney movement..........


Jeffrey Campbell

4 Years Ago

I'm glad you chose to stand your ground, Patrick! That's great to hear.


Thanks, Jeffrey, though I won't say it's an easy pill to swallow; anytime your stuff is stolen and used for the benefit and gratification of those who did NOT do the heavy lifting, it just plain sucks.

Mario. What part of, "...without my permission" do you not understand?

My colleague knew the risk of making a pitch for a film to the animation department at Disney as well as I did, but he was no outsider: As a producer, he has worked for Disney, which would explain how he was able to get a pitch meeting at Disney. His agent is at CAA, who lists many creatives working at companies such as Disney among their clients.

He made the pitches without me, so I don't know all the details of what actually transpired; I know only the outcomes.

And yes, it really is disheartening to be told your ideas have been rejected, only to find out they really were good enough to be used but without so much as a by your leave.


Dan Turner

4 Years Ago

"In a world attuned to the lure of instant gratification, it's not hard to understand why anyone might fall prey to a litigious solution rather than first consider the bigger picture and the importance of establishing one's significant place in it."

And there's the tragedy of the situation. Nowhere did I read that "we tried to work with them, or talk to them or take their temperature before filing suit."

There is a terrible misconception among filers of lawsuits that "if we win, great, if we lose, hey, it's no big deal." It's never "Hey, even though we are right, we could lose everything we ever worked for and still be fighting this thing years from now."


Amy Weiss

4 Years Ago

Patrick... why would Disney give you a seat at the table, when they can keep using your work/ideas for free?


Christine Till

4 Years Ago

Let's hope your dream of being in Disney's 'bigger picture' comes true one day, Patrick.
For most however, Disney taking their work is a "give" without getting anything back in return.

Once Disney used one of my photographs on their blog without my permission. I wrote to their copyright-lawyers' office and asked to either give proper credit or remove the image. I did not ask for compensation to keep the door open, Dan.
I got a wishy-washy reply, and after a few weeks they quietly removed my image because they had moved on to something else.


Mario Donk

4 Years Ago

Patrick, I get it, but it seems it makes little difference who owns the work that presented or if permission was given, they seem to do as they like. Logic would say that they are breaking copyright, that they take stuff or ideas, yet seem to assume they can with no damages to them. Its a very strange logic they seem to apply , almost as if they are outside any law.
I actually did work for them but I refused to sign their contract, Which technically I should have been asked to sign before I started, but they messed up. Not only would I not sign the contract as I have never encounter such a castrating contract in my life. I refused to be paid by them, they can use my work , they can have it for free as I did it in their premisses but I am not buying into this and I left. To each his own. unless they become more friendly I have no interest in them.



Your query reflects a slightly more cynical perspective regarding this business of intellectual property. In a dog-eat-dog world, any artist worth her salt will eventually learn how to protect herself, to adapt and survive. But once companies such as Disney take you on as an employee, your work is theirs anyway.


It is not solely to Disney that I look with wanton eyes; I'm interested in opening any door into the realm of cinematic art...especially any door left slightly ajar. Most of those wishing to do business with Disney - or DreamWorks, my first choice - would do well to first get themselves hired and work their way up the ladder, since it's from within that they draw talent to feed the 'machine.' ;-)


You are correct; they will do whatever they decide to do, no matter who or what stands in their way. Regarding Disney's practice of signing independent contractors: You are right again...they eat people like us for lunch.

Doesn't matter to me - once I'm in, I'm all in.


Rose Art

4 Years Ago

Patrick, you have every bit, all the talent necessary! I sure hope this turns into what you clearly deserve. Good luck.
Sue Disney or hope to get onto the ride, I guess it's a no brainer. Hard pill to swallow though. Not for the faint of heart.


Right you are, Liza, and thanks! for the compliment and well-wishes.

Which reminds me of an old adage: Careful what you wish might just get it.


Angelina Vick

4 Years Ago

I think it's sad they didn't even try to talk it out with Disney. Going bankrupt over it?

Patrick...I don't think I could have done that. Not say a word? For using my ideas and not attributing them to me at all? After they turned them

It's like waiting to get on a bully's good side.

Business sucks.

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Mike Savad

4 Years Ago

i heard disney sued an old lady who sold balloons because she was selling a mickey mouse version of some kind. they will take down even the smallest person.

though i suppose one could help drain their bank accounts. i've seen so many amusement rides with disney rip off themes. flying elephants, poorly drawn donalds, etc. i've always been tempted to send in shots to disney. but i dunno.

---Mike Savad


Roseann Caputo

4 Years Ago

Patrick - Agreed on bringing a knife to a gun fight. But to me this is all saying that as long as your Disney or some other such company, the law is optional for you. Why then does it not work in the reverse? If you were to work for them, how could you ever trust them? How would you know that they would not pull the same crap?


Roseann. If I worked for Disney, I certainly wouldn't have to worry about any lame-ass attempts to rip-off designs and concepts that I created for my company (Disney), and to this extent at least, I could trust them implicitly.

The lesson is this: Choose your battles wisely.


Dan Turner

4 Years Ago

The case isn't as clear-cut as many of you are trying to make it. Disney may actually be a victim here. Yes!! From what I can tell, the design was submitted by a sub-supplier for a not-too-important T-shirt design. They were responsible for any copyright clearances, in the same way we are responsible for what we upload here. Dollars-to-donuts Disney has an iron-clad contract with them, which has a hold-harmless clause in it. But Disney has the deep pockets, Disney is sort-of involved, so Disney is getting sued.


Arthur Fix

4 Years Ago

@Mike Savad
"and this is why big companies will always win."

Not true, there are many cases that are just the opposite. Just one, McDonalds case of the spilt hot coffee comes to mind.


Mike Savad

4 Years Ago

you might win the case, but how much money did they lose before they won? it often takes years to win at something. and that's also a rare case.

---Mike Savad


Gregory Scott

4 Years Ago

Disney seems to lobby do define longer and longer copyright protection. And we all benefit from that.

On the other hand, it's not good if they steal the creative works of others. Since they benefit so much from copyright protection, you would think they would be careful not to infringe themselves...


Regina Valluzzi

4 Years Ago

Did anyone look at the two works in question? They are both fairly generic - two groupings of sketched headshots of dogs. The groupings are different, the sketches are different. One could argue that the style of the sketches is similar - line drawings designed to look amateurish and friendly. But if you look at both, the style of the drawings on the Disney product is more like a cartoonists not-yet-final sketch.

But then why not argue that these drawings here also infringe or are infringed?
or for that matter this stock graphic?
Or maybe they're both copying work from this FAA profile?

My guess is that Disney is standing up to overly broad copyright claims. Of course the right thing to do would have been paying the modern dog group to create a derivative design and then licensing that design. Disney deserves to catch some flack for not doing the right thing if they know about modern dog and if they were given the opportunity to do the right thing.

However calling out infringement on these two works seems to beg the question of how much does copyright work like a bad patent. Apple has patented the rounded rectangle. Can an artist get the same blanket protections for "all pietas featuring abstract figures arranged according to the golden ratio" or "all watercolors featuring a silhouetted hula dancer between two palms with a sunset in the background" or "all photographs with an applied antique or grunge look of an older model bicycle leaning against a worn outer wall"


Regina Valluzzi

4 Years Ago

General rule of thumb - if there is a good possibility of winning decent damages in a suit, the lawyers will work on contingency for a part of the awarded damages. Often awarded damages include the winners legal fees.

The mess these guys have gotten themselves into seems just dumb, and I really wonder about the lawyers they've retained.

Most companies - especially companies that have a reputation with the public - would prefer to make the lawsuit go away, especially if they're clearly in the wrong. Why did this even go to lawyers?

Two possibilities:
1. The artists were wronged, but got terrible legal advice
2. The original design and "infringing design" are both very generic, and different enough to make infringement difficult to prove.

Even in case 2, with good legal advice they might very well have walked away 5 figures richer without a trial.


Angelina Vick

4 Years Ago

If you look closely, you can see they took the same dog selectively and then gave them different names.

Spicoli is on the top center of the original drawing, and renamed Francois on the bottom left of the shirt.

Snoopy and Jose have their ears flying out on the original drawing, you can see them clearly on the shirt, renamed.


Kendall Kessler

4 Years Ago

Thanks for posting this Dan! A real eye opener!


Dan Turner

4 Years Ago

You're welcome, Kendall. We see a lot of "You should sue them!" cries here. I always want to say "not so fast." Suing someone isn't like buying a lottery ticket. There are big risks associated with lawsuits. Once you open the door, you have no control over who may walk in and turn your life into a nightmare.


John Crothers

4 Years Ago

The Target post made me think of a documentary I just watched..."Hot Coffee".

It is about TORT reform and the woman who sued McDonald's after burning herself with coffee.

The movie changed my mind about such lawsuits. Watch it, it may change your mind as well.


Patricia Strand

4 Years Ago

I haven't read this entire thread, but it looks like the attorney representing the artists is a small, solo practitioner. NOT someone who should be taking on Disney. Oooops.


John Rizzuto

4 Years Ago

Patrick's comments remind me an interview I heard with Chuck Zito a few weeks ago. He has been complaining for years that the creator of Sons of Anarchy ripped of his idea for the show 6 years ago. I use to hear interviews with him years ago and they always asked him why he didn't sue them. He always said because he wants to continue to work in Hollywood even on a limited scale since he is not an A-list celeb. So jump forward to this past year and he now has a decent sized role on the show for season 5. So during the interview of 2 weeks ago, he said he stayed in contact with the creator and never threatened a lawsuit but made it clear he as not happy that he thought they we doing a show that was his idea. So after a few years went by the creator made it up to him and gave him a big role in the show that might benefit him more than a lawsuit would have. Even if he won the suit.


Chuck Staley

4 Years Ago

Speaking of Disney, mind if I tell my Walt story?

I was working as an extra on the Mickey Mouse club and this pleasant-looking man came up and said, "Hi, my name is Walt." He asked a few questions and learned that I was fresh from Memphis, worked in television, and had even done voices on a puppet show.

He called over an engineer and told him to set up a voice audition when it was suitable for me.

A very nice man.

But I have worked for the company many times since then and they DO sue ANYONE who uses their products without permission. And I can't imagine anyone winning against their deep pockets.


Thank you, John, for sharing Chuck Zito's story, which further illustrates Dan's most excellent premise - that exercising restraint in matters involving the preservation of intellectual property can often yield greater benefits for all parties if we keep the bigger picture in focus.

Discretion is the better part of valor.

Chuck. Your anecdotal brush with greatness speaks volumes about the man himself. Brilliant!


Daniel Rauch

4 Years Ago

I will agree that this type of lawsuit may not be in the best interest of the artist but I don't have like such buiness practices and don't have to give my money to disney either!


Angelina Vick

4 Years Ago

Hmm...I didn't know that about SOA. Sounds like he played it very smart...I'll be looking for him when the season starts. =)


Patricia Strand

4 Years Ago

I basically agree with Regina as to their representation. I just emailed ModernDog and suggested they inquire with a larger firm who could possibly take it over on a pro bono basis. "Michael" responded right away saying that they love their attorney, and he's "really, really good." Yes, and really, really much richer by now.


Mike Savad

4 Years Ago

how can they say a lawyer is any good if they haven't had the trial yet. he seems to be really good at convincing that he is good. i still say this whole thing is fishy.

---Mike Savad


Patricia Strand

4 Years Ago

Mike, exactly. So far, he's only been good at taking their money.


Ann Powell

4 Years Ago

John, I also saw that documentary Hot Coffee, it was an eye opener for sure! I would also recommend it.


Colin Hayward

4 Years Ago

Wow, this is a bit of a Threadnaught, but I thought I'd get my tuppence worth in, from something similar that happened in the UK round about Feb/March this year. The story revolves around a fashion designer, her photographs, and a "Big Corporation" or at least their designers using images without permission.

I haven't heard of the outcome, but the last I had heard was that she was more than willing to talk and resolve rather than going to the judicial system.


John Ayo

4 Years Ago

IIRC there have been cases where Disney has lost, when suing folks for selling things made with store-bought Disney print fabrics.

IIRC the courts have made it pretty clear that when there is no actual copying involved, there is no copyright violation.


R Kyllo

4 Years Ago

There is an unfortunate truism:

"A patent (or copyright) is only worth the amount of money you have to defend it."

Very unfortunate, but never forget it!


Mark James Perry

4 Years Ago

I just don't see the copyright infringment Over two words?????


This discussion is closed.

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