Disney Wins 'Pirates Of The Caribbean' Copyright Suit As Court Declares You Cannot Copyright Pirate Life

from the a-bottle-of-rum dept

It's no secret that Disney is almost solely responsible for the wild expansion of copyright law that has occurred over the course of decades. In addition to the near constant lobbying for longer copyright term lengths and a heavy-handed approach to enforcement, Disney has also found itself attempting to assert copyright in areas of broad ideas rather than literal copying. Perhaps to some, then, it was a shot of schadenfreude to watch Disney face its own lawsuit brought by screenwriters over its Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. Way back in 2000, two writers and a producer pitched a script about pirate Davy Jones to Disney, which the company ultimate rejected. In 2004, Disney released the first of its own Pirates movies starring Johnny Depp.

But no amount of just desserts ought to change the legal principles in copyright law, so it's still a good thing to see that the court has struck down the copyright suit on the grounds that the scripts aren't actually similar, aside from some non-protectable ideas, rather than explicit expression. We can start with the purported similarities brought by producer Tova Laiter, which should immediately stand out to you as not protected by copyright law.

The writers and Laiter said the movies, like the screenplay, diverged from the traditional canon by portraying pirates as humorous, good men rather than terrifying brutes. They also claimed both works featured supernatural cursed, skull-faced pirates, and that actor Johnny Depp’s Captain Jack Sparrow character was substantially similar to the screenplay’s Davy Jones.

But the “single purported similarity” between the widely varying plots—cursed pirates—was an idea that flows naturally from a basic plot premise and therefore unprotectable, the judge said. The dark mood driven by pirate battles and sea monsters also stemmed naturally from the pirate premise, Judge Consuelo B. Marshall said.

These are ideas and concepts, not actual expression, which is why the court ruled against the plaintiffs. Broad ideas, such as making pirates funny and likeable, are obviously not the sort of thing that copyright is designed to protect. Were Disney to have lifted the names and descriptions of pirates from the original screenplay, perhaps there would be a valid case. Minor deviations from well-worn pirate tropes, however, don't work for a copyright suit.

And, while the plaintiffs attempted to draw comparisons between Jack Sparrow and their own Davy Jones, the court does a fairly thorough takedown in its own analysis.

The court dismissed comparisons between Sparrow and Jones, stating “cockiness, bravery, and drunkenness are generic, non-distinct characteristics which are not protectable.” The screenplay’s clean-shaven, ponytail- wearing Jones, who gave up pirating to raise orphans with a love interest, departed significantly from the unshaven wild-haired Sparrow who never renounces piracy or has any comparable relationships, Marshall said.

The court also discounted alleged copying of setting, dialogue and other elements as either overstated or a bid to protect the unprotectable.

It's not easy to root for Disney in a copyright case, frankly. But the alternative -- rooting for a plaintiff that wants to assert copyright over generic genre elements -- is a complete non-starter.

Filed Under: copyright, pirates, pirates of the caribbean, tova laiter
Companies: disney


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  • icon
    Stephen T. Stone (profile), 16 May 2019 @ 7:37pm

    Rooting for The Mouse in a copyright case? Holy shit, this is the Twilight Zone…’s public domain equivalent.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Pirates 3: Roger Jolly, Yoho Ho, Andy Bottle O'Rum, 16 May 2019 @ 7:47pm

    First sentence is egregious over-reach. MILLIONS benefitted,

    from extending copyright length and nailing down laws trying to prevent millions of thefts without inconveniencing honest people -- and rightly so, just not nearly enough yet.

    Sheerly for writing, you only distract with that first sentence. There's nothing here controversial though, so guess you had to go trolling, and I bit.

    [By the way, screen name occurred to me hours ago. It's always topical here at Pirate Bay West.]

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 16 May 2019 @ 8:09pm

      Re:

      What, exactly, is the benefit of a copyright term lasting "life + 75 years" compared to "life + 50 years"?

      I'm still waiting for the corpses of Michael Jackson to produce anything.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Gary (profile), 16 May 2019 @ 8:15pm

        Re: Re:

        What, exactly, is the benefit of a copyright term lasting "life + 75 years" compared to "life + 50 years"?

        Simple - it tremendously extends the reach of corporations, and bolsters governmental intrusion. If you love censorship and corporations, then extended copyright is wonderful.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 16 May 2019 @ 10:42pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          What, exactly, is the benefit of a copyright term lasting "life + 75 years" compared to "life + 50 years"?
          Simple - it tremendously extends the reach of corporations, and bolsters governmental intrusion. If you love censorship and corporations, then extended copyright is wonderful.

          Should anything be allowed to be inherited?

          In true capitalism, I'd say no.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            Gary (profile), 17 May 2019 @ 5:51am

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            I have no problem with modest inheritance. But anything over $500k should be taxed heavily. Most millionaires inherited everything they have and contribute zero.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • identicon
              Anonymous Coward, 17 May 2019 @ 5:54am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              But they pulled themselves up by their own bootstraps and became self made millionaires, or so they claim - lol

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • icon
              Bamboo Harvester (profile), 17 May 2019 @ 6:11am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              That's the cost of a low-end home in a good neighborhood.

              If I leave an estate of $5 million, the government takes a huge chunk of it.

              If I blow it all buying hats instead, the government says that's ok - it's my money.

              I earned it, I should be able to spend it how I wish, within the confines of the law.

              Which includes "spending" it on my kids and grandkids.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

              • icon
                PaulT (profile), 17 May 2019 @ 6:17am

                Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                "If I blow it all buying hats instead, the government says that's ok - it's my money"

                You would also still pay tax.

                Tax is generally payable on transfer of money from one person to another. There's no reason this should change just because they're related to each other.

                "within the confines of the law"

                The law includes paying tax.

                reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

                • icon
                  Gary (profile), 17 May 2019 @ 6:44am

                  Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                  Low inheritance tax allows plutocratic dynasties to form.

                  If you want to be ruled by aristocrats that were born into wealth and power, abolishing inheritance taxes is the way to go.

                  "It's mine, lemee do what I want" is a compelling appeal to self interest, no argument there.

                  reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

                • icon
                  Bamboo Harvester (profile), 17 May 2019 @ 7:06am

                  Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                  If I blew it on hats, I'd pay 8% State Sales Tax.

                  Estate taxes are a bit higher than that.

                  What it comes down to is... ownership. Is the Estate I leave when I die mine to distribute, or does it belong to the Government?

                  And that $500k number is ludicrous. Work for thirty years, invest wisely in low-risk areas, and you should leave an estate of about three times that by age 75 or so.

                  reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

                  • icon
                    Gary (profile), 17 May 2019 @ 7:15am

                    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                    I get it, But you are still advocating the creation of an aristocrat class.

                    "It's mine and the government can't have it" applies equally well to estate and income taxes. I am in favor of Progressive taxes. Raising the tax rate on the highest earners isn't going to disincentivize anyone from making more money.

                    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

                    • icon
                      Bamboo Harvester (profile), 17 May 2019 @ 8:46am

                      Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                      We've got an "aristocrat" class. We just call them "politicians".

                      "Raising the tax rate on the highest earners...."

                      ...you mean the people that already pay over 90% of the total income taxes collected by the Federal Government?

                      ...or do you mean the people IN government that are in the top 5% or so of earners, the people that MAKE the laws regarding taxation?

                      ...or do you mean the people that buy the laws to protect their income?

                      And when you hear some liberal millionaire complaining that his tax rate is lower than his chauffeur's, please point out to him or her that the IRS has always accepted donations, there's absolutely nothing preventing them from paying that same "rate".

                      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

                  • icon
                    PaulT (profile), 17 May 2019 @ 7:22am

                    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                    "If I blew it on hats, I'd pay 8% State Sales Tax.

                    Estate taxes are a bit higher than that."

                    They also only apply to estate of over $5.8 million at present in the US. Do you have more than that, or are you just another useful idiot who's been convinced to oppose taxes for the wealthy against your own benefit (as shortfall in taxes taken from the wealthy will usually be levied on the middle class instead)?

                    "Is the Estate I leave when I die mine to distribute, or does it belong to the Government?"

                    Both. As with any time you use your money, some goes to pay for the society you've benefitted from, and the majority goes to the recipient.

                    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

                    • icon
                      Bamboo Harvester (profile), 17 May 2019 @ 8:50am

                      Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                      On paper, I don't know. Assessments here run about double actual sale value, so until you actually sell a property, you don't know what it's "worth" so far as the government is concerned.

                      Unless you die - then it's taxed at full assessed value.

                      And in your last, you've switched from "spend" to "use". If I liquidate everything and "leave" my kids suitcases of non-sequential hundreds, I have not "spent" that money, it's not in the taxable income stream.

                      One of my kids spending $100 of that cash is returning it to the income stream. Them putting it in a piggy bank for one of their kids is not. I don't see the difference.

                      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

                      • icon
                        PaulT (profile), 17 May 2019 @ 12:14pm

                        Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                        "Assessments here run about double actual sale value, so until you actually sell a property, you don't know what it's "worth" so far as the government is concerned."

                        So... you have the power to work out whether you fall under the $5.8 million threshold or now. Check it out. If you don't have that much, you're demanding that people with way more money than you escape their taxes. BTW, if you have that much, it means you have are in the top 2.5% of Americans and the top 0.5% of the world's population. That's what Gary was saying above - allowing the ultra rich to transfer money without payment to society allows for the plutocratic society you apparently demand.

                        "If I liquidate everything and "leave" my kids suitcases of non-sequential hundreds, I have not "spent" that money, it's not in the taxable income stream."

                        Until that money gets spent, yes.

                        "One of my kids spending $100 of that cash is returning it to the income stream. Them putting it in a piggy bank for one of their kids is not."

                        Somebody somewhere will transfer that money somewhere else eventually, and it will be taxed at that point.

                        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

                      • identicon
                        TFG, 17 May 2019 @ 1:59pm

                        Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                        Sorry Bamboo. I'll leave others to actually debate you.

                        For me, it's "Eat the rich."

                        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

                        • identicon
                          Bobvious, 17 May 2019 @ 3:40pm

                          Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                          Careful, TFG. Any mention of mass debate will bring Jhon Boy and Out_of_lube to the party.

                          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

              • identicon
                Bobvious, 17 May 2019 @ 3:39pm

                Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: it's my money.

                Sorry BH. You're only "LEASING" that money, and it can be EXPIRED without notice. Read the EULA next time.

                reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

              • identicon
                Anonymous Coward, 18 May 2019 @ 10:54am

                Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                Bitching about estate taxes is being a bit pissy isn't it?

                reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 20 May 2019 @ 7:02am

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            "Should anything be allowed to be inherited?"

            More like "should you be able to inherit the dubious right to prevent 3rd parties from making copies of information?"

            I'm all on board with inheriting actual assets such as money and physical properties. The key issue is that an idea, or the concept of specific information, is not a property.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 17 May 2019 @ 8:40am

          Re: Re: Re:

          If you love censorship and corporations, then extended copyright is wonderful.

          If you love censorship and corporations, then copyright is wonderful.

          Fixed that for you.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            Gary (profile), 17 May 2019 @ 9:02am

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            If you love censorship and corporations, then copyright is wonderful.

            Fixed that for you.

            Thanks!!

            Personally I love how some posters are frothing mad at the government telling them to do anything. But are all "Gevernemnt BAD - except Copyright!"
            Then switch right over to "Corporations BAD - Unless they are controlling me with Copyright!"

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 16 May 2019 @ 9:18pm

        why life+75?

        Simple. The original Mickey Mouse cartoons were created in 1928. Their creator died in 1966. They should be in the public domain by now... but changing the law to life+75 (and attempting to coerce Canada and Mexico to follow suit by reneging on parts of NAFTA to try to force an even-worse trade agreement on them) ensures that this content never becomes free to the public. 1928. Mickey Mouse.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 20 May 2019 @ 7:04am

          Re: why life+75?

          "...changing the law to life+75 (and attempting to coerce Canada and Mexico to follow suit by reneging on parts of NAFTA to try to force an even-worse trade agreement on them) ensures that this content never becomes free to the public."

          Hence why any law purchased by vested interests has become known as a "Mickey Mouse law".

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 17 May 2019 @ 5:44am

        Re: Re:

        I'm still waiting for the corpses of Michael Jackson to produce anything.

        Wait, "corpses" of Michael Jackson?
        Plural?

        I knew there was more than one Paul McCartney, but I didn't know the same applied to Michael Jackson...

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 17 May 2019 @ 6:21am

          Re: Re: Re:

          Plural?

          All of the parts they snipped off of him for cosmetic reasons were saved, nurtured in a barometric chamber, and reassembled. It's mostly nose, and it can't dance very well, but it was working on a sequel to 'Beat It' called 'Blow It' which was destined to be a hit until it came down with a Bad case of nostriillitis and perished.

          Hence, 'corpses'.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 20 May 2019 @ 6:59am

        Re: Re:

        "I'm still waiting for the corpses of Michael Jackson to produce anything."

        That's rude. He's currently providing the graveyard ecology with a nice helping of proteins and fatty acids, you know?

        So he obviously has a need for suitable remuneration.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Stephen T. Stone (profile), 16 May 2019 @ 8:12pm

      The only people who truly benefitted from copyright lasting two lifetimes are the people in charge of companies such as Disney and people who turned their copyright royalties into “rich people’s welfare”.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 16 May 2019 @ 10:41pm

        Re:

        The only people who truly benefitted from copyright lasting two lifetimes are the people in charge of companies such as Disney and people who turned their copyright royalties into “rich people’s welfare”.

        Without this, there would be an incentive to kill the copyright holder.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          That One Guy (profile), 16 May 2019 @ 11:26pm

          Re: Re:

          As always with this 'argument' can't tell if actually deranged or poe pretending to be...

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 17 May 2019 @ 4:45am

            Re: Re: Re:

            Oh come on, that was funny!

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • icon
              Stephen T. Stone (profile), 17 May 2019 @ 5:12am

              Only to a sociopath.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • icon
              That One Guy (profile), 17 May 2019 @ 3:05pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re:

              It rather lost it's humor to me at least when I saw it made by someone who was actually serious, and who apparently could not see any reason you wouldn't kill someone if it would mean something entering the foul public domain sooner.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • icon
              Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 20 May 2019 @ 7:08am

              Re: Re: Re: Re:

              "Oh come on, that was funny!"

              Sadly not since the exact same has been suggested in earnest by bona fide copyright trolls, including our own Baghdad Bob/Bobmail/blue.

              Poe's Law states that it's impossible to parody a clown. Similarly it's impossible to parody a copyright troll because all the comedian accomplishes is to spout a blurb of genuine pro-copyright propaganda while believing he's being sarcastic.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 17 May 2019 @ 2:18am

          Re: Re:

          Hi, MyNameHere.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          cpt kangarooski, 17 May 2019 @ 6:06am

          Re: Re:

          So long as the term is based on their life, there will always be that incentive. Base the term on a fixed period of years, like we used to do (e.g. 20 years from creation of the work) and there is no problem. Doesn’t matter if the author dies immediately after creation or halfway through the term, or outlives the copyright.

          Of course, in reality, no one cares about killing authors for their copyrights anyway except perhaps their heirs, who are incentivized to do so by longer copyright terms. The value of a profitable copyright to them is worth a hell of a lot more than the nebulous value of a work being in the public domain is to a hypothetical community-minded murderer.

          That you’d suggest there are such folks shows how stupid you are.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 17 May 2019 @ 6:18pm

            Re: Re: Re:

            Remember: according to John Smith, the fact that he thought of a scenario where a waiter can call a woman a hooker because someone on 4chan did half a decade ago suddenly means all harassment and rape and murder laws have ceased to exist unless Section 230 is nuked from orbit and IP addresses are taken as the purest, most incontrovertible form of evidence.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 16 May 2019 @ 8:20pm

      Re: only filthy pirates use TOR

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Gary (profile), 16 May 2019 @ 9:22pm

        Re: Re: only filthy pirates use TOR

        Several of the Trolls and scammers here use TOR, to maintain their air of mystique.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 16 May 2019 @ 10:19pm

          Re: Re: Re: only filthy pirates use TOR

          Which is just as well, because they're so fucking terrible at hiding their identity they need all the extra help they can get.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          That One Guy (profile), 17 May 2019 @ 3:07pm

          Re: Re: Re: only filthy pirates use TOR

          ... and then whine and moan that they get caught in the spam filter because of it, despite being told that that would happen, providing laughs for all.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 May 2019 @ 10:42pm

    So, "pirates" cannot be copyrighted.

    Oh, the irony.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    blademan9999 (profile), 16 May 2019 @ 10:48pm

    Copyright law just hates it when Mike Masnick is enforced.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    PaulT (profile), 17 May 2019 @ 12:32am

    "But the “single purported similarity” between the widely varying plots—cursed pirates—was an idea that flows naturally from a basic plot premise "

    It's also in the ride the movie was based on, IIRC. I certainly remember pirate skeletons from my first visit to Disneyworld in 1991, although I grant that my memory could be faulty.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 May 2019 @ 4:29am

    *just deserts.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 May 2019 @ 8:43am

    Disney did not invent pirates ,or davy jones ,or sea monsters,
    they are lucky they lost this case,
    image a company could copyright simple tropes like
    western or gangster movies ,
    it would be very restictive on free speech
    or creators of tv show,s .Disney has made movies based on old folk tales that were created before
    the film industry even existed .
    It would be very hard to create a genre film that was completely original without using concepts like lawman ,magic, hero, cowboy ,gangster etc
    holywood needs long copyrights because they will still
    be making films based on ip they own in 100 years .
    Even after the original creator has passed away.
    Mission impossible is based on an old tv show from the 70,s
    In 50 years time they will still be making spiderman and batman films .

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 May 2019 @ 12:45pm

    What? No copyrighting funny pirates?

    Wouldn't that be literary de-Penzance?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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