SW Legal studies in Business

Theme of Screenplay Not Protected by Copyright

Court dismissed a suit for copyright infringement by an author who contended that the concept for a Disney movie was taken from her screenplay. The court found that while the themes were similar, there were not sufficient similarities.

Topic Intellectual Property
Key Words

Copyright; Infringement; Movie

C A S E   S U M M A R Y

Campbell copyrighted an original screenplay of “The Challenge” in 2000. She sent it to Disney for consideration; Disney rejected it. In 2006, Campbell claimed Disney infringed on the copyright by producing the animated movie, “Cars.” Which she claims is substantially similar to her screenplay. Disney moved to dismiss the complaint.


Motion granted. To determine “substantial similarity” between works that are not literally similar, there is an “extrinsic” test. It focuses on similarities between the plot, themes, dialogue, mood, setting, pace, characters and sequence of events. Here there was no substantial similarity between the screenplays. The works shared themes of self-reliance and the value of friendship and teamwork, but there was nothing similar in the two main characters. The plot, dialogue, mood, setting and pace of the works were not similar. The general idea of a story is not protected against copying. The general theme of self-reliance and the importance of friendship and teamwork are generic and not protected by copyright.

Citation Campbell v. Walt Disney Co., ---F.Supp.2d--- (2010 WL 2489189, N.D., Calif., 2010)

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