Shiver me timbers! The Ninth Circuit revives copyright infringement lawsuit against Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean:Curse of the Black Pearl

Alfred v Disney , Appeal 19-55669, July 22, 2020

Plaintiffs Alfred et al. (“Alfred”) appealed the dismissal of their copyright infringement action against Defendants The Walt Disney Company et al. (“Disney”).  Alfred argued the dismissal was in error given the substantial similarities between their screenplay and the allegedly infringing film.  The 9th Circuit agreed, holding that although there were many differences, the similarities were striking.

While the district court noted the similarities, the lower court dismissed the action because the similar elements, i.e., character introduction during a battle, a treasure hunt that takes place on an island and in “jewel filled caves”, first mate betrayal, fearful scenes involving skeleton crews, etc, were held to be “unprotected generic, pirate movie tropes.”

In their reversal, the 9th Circuit stated that it was too early in the litigation to make such a determination, and that additional evidence would be helpful in this regard.   Specifically, the 9th Circuit held:

This would be particularly useful in this circumstance, where the works in question are almost 20 years old and the blockbuster Pirates of the Caribbean film franchise may itself have shaped what are now considered pirate-movie tropes.

Blimey mate, not sure if that’s a compliment or an insult!