Pirates of the Caribbean star Johnny Depp has been in a legal sword fight with his ex-business managers for millions for almost a year, and now the Walt Disney Company finds itself facing a big-bucks copyright lawsuit over the $4.5 billion franchise.
Long ship ride short, A. Lee Alfred, II and Ezequiel Martinez, Jr. allege that Disney lifted “copyrighted expression of themes, settings, dialogue, characters, plot, mood, sequence of events” from their 2000 spec script entitled Pirates of the Caribbean.” Unlike many such similar suits, the duo say they submitted the script while working with Disney on their Red Hood project that the studio was interested in. During that period from late 1999 to 2000, the two writers and their producer Tova Laiter say they worked closely with Disney’s Brigham Taylor, Josh Harmon and Michael Haynes, among others. In fact, they say Disney got them into the Writers Guild as work progressed on the never-made Red Hood.
Then, soon after Laiter handed the Pirates script and a sizzle reel to Taylor on August 9, 2000, things started to sink in the relationship with Disney – especially after a copy of the screenplay and original artwork was supposedly spied on the coffee table in Taylor’s office and they were quickly hustled out of the room.
The jury trial demanding suit seeks wide ranging damages, profits and an injunction that would put all the Pirates pics in dock it seems.
“The opportunity to have a major film studio, such as Defendants, take a screenwriter’s original spec screenplay and turn the work into a major motion picture is the ultimate dream,” states the complaint filed Tuesday in Colorado federal court against almost every corporate aspect of Disney. “A. Lee Alfred, II and Ezequiel Martinez, Jr. almost realized that dream, but they this dream quickly turned into a nightmare, when their original work, ‘The Screenplay,’ was intentionally copied and commercially exploited by Defendant’s, creating a billion-dollar franchise, with no credit or compensation to Alfred or Martinez,” the document for the two scribes and producer Laiter adds (read it here).
Very soon after that meeting in Taylor’s office, according to the suit, the writers were paid out for their Red Hood work and basically put back on a plane to Colorado, their dalliance with Disney seemingly over.
“Shortly thereafter, Laiter was informed by Taylor that the Defendants were going to pass on the project due to children being in ‘The Screenplay’, the 25-page filing details. Alfred and Martinez were both on the phone (listening on silent) when Laiter was informed that Defendants were passing on the original spec screenplay and passing on the project,” it notes. “At no point during the conversation did the Defendants state that they had another screenplay already and were moving forward with a Pirates of the Caribbean film project,” the complaint adds.
The filing does note earlier that now-longtime Pirates producer Taylor told them back in 200o “that the idea of a film based on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride had been suggested over the years and that the Defendants had considered making a film based on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride recently.” But at that point that seemed a mere notion not a project and certainly not the Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl that debuted in 2003 to big box office and set sail all the way to this year’s Dead Men Tell No Tales.
“This complaint is entirely without merit, and we look forward to vigorously defending against it in court,” said Disney on the lawsuit against the Jerry Bruckheimer-produced five-film series based on the theme park ride that first appeared at Disneyland in 1967. Having just registered “their original works of authorship with the U.S. Copyright Office on October 3rd, 2017,” the plaintiffs do not offer any explanation as to why it took them nearly two decades to recognize a copyright infringement.
As the lawsuit itself does state, and as Deadline has covered over the years, this is far from the first time the House of Mouse has been accused of grabbing someone else’s idea. However, as with such suits, including the dismissed but not over Zootopia one, proving such infringement is a different matter altogether – a place where the plaintiffs might find themselves at the legal equivalent of World’s End, or not.