U.S. Appeals Court Affirms Disney Win Against Evel Knievel Estate Over Toy Story Character

from the kaboom dept

I guess I shouldn’t be shocked, but the trademark and publicity rights dispute between Disney and K&K Promotions, the company that manages the rights for the late stuntman Evel Knievel, was still ongoing until recently. If you’re not aware of what I’m talking about, the movie Toy Story 4 included a character named Duke Caboom, a toy motorcycle stuntman that certainly had some characteristics that were an homage to Knievel. Not just Knievel, though, and that’s the important bit. Instead, the character had its own backstory, name, and imagery, all of which borrowed from several stuntmen from that era.

But K&K decided that it was all Knievel and sued over trademark and publicity rights. That case ended with a dismissal, correctly assessing that the movie was a creative work, therefore applying the Rogers test, in which deference is given to the creative work protected by the First Amendment. Since the court assessed that the character was a compilation of period references to stuntmen, again with his own backstory, name, and likeness, there was no trademark or publicity rights concern.

But K&K apparently appealed the decision for reasons that are entirely beyond me. The U.S. Appeals Court has now affirmed that ruling, finding for Disney yet again.

A U.S. appeals court on Monday upheld a ruling that the daredevil character Duke Caboom from Disney’s “Toy Story 4” did not unlawfully copy Evel Knievel’s persona. The 1st Amendment protects Disney’s work from a lawsuit brought by the owner of the late Knievel’s intellectual property, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said.

I’ll embed the ruling below, but it’s basically a full affirmation of what the lower court ruled. The trademark claim is not a thing because of the character’s creative element to the overall creative work, the public wouldn’t somehow think that Knievel or K&K were endorsing the movie, and all of this irrelevant anyway because Caboom is a fictional character.

“Even if the character may be generically reminiscent of Knievel to some extent, the district court properly concluded that it is not a literal depiction, and instead shares general features basic to stuntmen,” the panel said in a jointly written opinion.

One would hope this would be the end of all this. The fight is over, Knievel is dead, and Disney can write stories about fictional stunt people all it wants.

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Companies: disney, k&k productions

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Comments on “U.S. Appeals Court Affirms Disney Win Against Evel Knievel Estate Over Toy Story Character”

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Jordan says:


Evel Knievel was a jerk anyway.
hile Knievel was healing from injuries sustained from the Chicago jump, the book Evel Knievel on Tour was released. Written by Knievel’s promoter for the Snake River Canyon jump, Shelly Saltman, the book painted an unflattering picture of Knievel’s character, alleging that he abused his wife and children and used drugs.

Knievel, with both arms still in casts, flew to California to confront Saltman, by then a VP at 20th Century Fox. Outside the studio commissary, one of Knievel’s friends grabbed Saltman and held him, while Knievel attacked him with an aluminum baseball bat, declaring “I’m going to kill you!” According to a witness to the attack, Knievel struck repeated blows at Saltman’s head, with Saltman blocking the blows with his left arm. Saltman’s arm and wrist were shattered in several places before he fell to the ground unconscious. It took numerous surgeries and permanent metal plates in his arm for Saltman to regain the use of his arm.

Saltman’s book was withdrawn by the publisher after Knievel threatened to sue. Saltman later produced documents in both criminal and civil court that proved that, although Knievel claimed to have been insulted by statements in Saltman’s book, he and his lawyers had actually been given editorial access to the book and had approved and signed off on every word prior to its publication. On October 14, 1977, Knievel pleaded guilty to battery and was sentenced to three years’ probation and six months in county jail.

After the Saltman assault and subsequent jail time, Knievel lost his marketing endorsements and deals, including Harley-Davidson and Ideal Toys. With no income from jumping or sponsorships, Knievel eventually declared bankruptcy. In 1981, Saltman was awarded a $13 million judgment against Knievel in a civil trial, but he never received any money from either Knievel or Knievel’s estate.

egftechman (profile) says:

Hate to say it...

I hate to say it, but I have to be on Disney’s side on this one. How may fictional characters are developed taking traits from real people? Pretty secure to say most of them. If the set precedent that anyone can sue for being an “inspiration” for all or part of a fictional character, it will stop creation of new literature, screenplays, etc.. There are 7 billion people on this earth, to create a truly original character that has zero likeness to any of them would be an impossible feat.

nasch (profile) says:


I hate to say it, but I have to be on Disney’s side on this one.

We should never hesitate to support the side that is in the right in legal matters even if we detest them. Not that you or I have any power over such things, but if cases were to be decided based on how sympathetic the parties are, we would end up with some extremely bad precedents.

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