Legal News: Author Sues Disney for $250M, Claiming “Frozen” Copied Her Life Story

By Bryan Llenas and Lucia I. Suarez, FOX News Latino

A Peruvian author is claiming Disney plagiarized the story from her autobiography, “Yearnings of the Heart” – not from Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale, as the company has said – and she wants her money.  Isabella Tanikumi, whose birth name is Amy Gonzalez, has filed a lawsuit for copyright infringement worth $250 million against Disney.

“These books deal with the story of two sisters who have tragedies, romances, conflicts, isolation and loneliness and there are significant similarities with your movie.”- Isabella Tanikumi

The little-known author claims in the lawsuit that Disney copied the story, characters and plots of her 2010 novel and turned into “Frozen” — the studio’s highest grossing animated movie of all time.  According to Amazon’s synopsis of the autobiography, it is a “compelling, introspective account of the life of Isabella Tanikumi, who takes her readers on a journey through various phases of her remarkable life – from her family’s survival during the devastating earthquake of 1970 in Huaraz, Peru, to the trials of overcoming the reaches of her intellect while facing the tragic and untimely death of her beloved older sister Laura.”  In the lawsuit, filed last week in the District Court of New Jersey federal court, Isabella claims Disney plagiarized her own life story in 18 different ways.

“I recently purchased and viewed your movie ‘Frozen’ with my daughter and was appalled at what I observed,” Isabella wrote in an accompanying text to the lawsuit, of which Fox News Latino got a copy.  Her published and copyrighted work, she says, deals with “the story of two sisters who have tragedies, romances, conflicts, isolation and loneliness and there are significant similarities with your movie.”  Among the similarities, according to Isabella, her story begins in the town of Huaraz “at the base of snow-covered mountains where she lives with her parents and sister Laura.” Frozen too takes place in a village (Arendelle) at the foot of snow-covered mountains — where Elsa and Anna, two sisters, live with their parents.  At the heart of Isabella’s claim is that Disney copied her relationship with her older sister Laura. The lawsuit claims that, just like Frozen’s Elsa and Anna, Laura and Isabella had opposite hair colors, both had horses and both shared a deep love for one another.  A critical part of Frozen’s movie plot is when Elsa accidently hurts Anna with her wintry magic, and a troll king heals her removing her memory of the whole incident. Well, that too, according to Isabella is not an original Disney idea.  Isabella claims she has no memory of an accident caused by her sister that did severe damage to Isabella’s face after falling in hot custard. Isabella had to cover up her facial injuries with concealing creams and had terrible fears of going out. In “Frozen,” Elsa had to cover up her hands to conceal her magic and is afraid of going out. Because of the accidents and subsequent “defects,” both Isabella and Elsa become defensive out of embarrassment and fear.  Isabella also claims her two romantic interests – Hans and Christoff – inspired “Frozen”‘s two male characters Hans and Kristoff which had a romantic interest in Anna. Also like Isabella, Anna falls in love with a dark-haired tall and fair man (Prince Hans of the Southern Isles).  Finally, like in “Frozen,” when Anna dies in a severe accident, Laura also died in a severe accident — the only difference is Anna comes back to life in the movie.

Disney’s “Frozen” has grossed an astronomical $1.2 billion at the global box office, and its lead song “Let It Go,” performed by Idina Menzel, gave songwriter Robert Lopez the coveted EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony) wins.  But that hit soundtrack, apparently, is plagiarized too.  Isabella claims that, “through various sources, I am aware that writers in the music industry have taken portions of my stories to develop songs for popular artists and these writers may have corroborated with the writers of ‘Frozen’.”  There is no mention of a talking snowman in this lawsuit. For now, Olaf is safe.


Legal News: Can you trademark the word “trademark” ?

By Keely Herrick, IP Attorney, Parks Wood LLC

With the recent opening of a store called Trademark in New York City featuring clothing by Pookie and Louisa Burch, the designers now have an opportunity to register the word “Trademark” as a trademark. While this may seem counter-intuitive, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has allowed an entire family of trademark applications filed by the sisters for the word TRADEMARK covering a wide range of goods, from candles to clothing. The introduction of the brand opens up an interesting opportunity to revisit what allows a word to function as a trademark.

A Trademark By Any Other Name…

Primarily, the purpose of a trademark is to serve as a source identifier. When you see the terms CHANEL, DKNY, or CALVIN KLEIN placed on clothing and apparel, you instantly are aware that a particular company and entity stands behind these products, and you associate a certain standard of quality and customer service with the source of the products. Furthermore, you make your purchasing decision at least in part based upon your opinion of the source of the products.

Generic terms cannot function as trademarks. Therefore, “hat” cannot be a trademark for hats, and “shoe” cannot be a trademark for shoes. If someone was allowed to claim exclusive rights in all uses of either of these terms for the respective products, the rest of the industry would be at a disadvantage as it would be unable to use a necessary term in referring to the products. Does it follow, then, that “trademark” cannot be protectable as a trademark? Not necessarily.

Apples and Oranges (and Trademarks)

Consider the term APPLE, a well-known trademark for computers and related products. This is what is known as an arbitrary trademark, where a term that has a defined, generic use in relation to one type of products (here, apples, and apple-flavored foods) can function as a trademark for goods which are unrelated to the known definition of the term. Similarly, TRADEMARK has a defined use as a source-identifier: a symbol, word, or phrase established by use as representing a company or product. However, TRADEMARK is not a defined item of clothing like a shoe or a hat.

If the Burch sisters obtain a trademark registration for the term TRADEMARK for use in connection with clothing, does this mean that all other fashion labels have to remove the term TRADEMARK from their labels and hangtags? Is Louis Vuitton no longer allowed to refer to its LOUIS VUITTON trademark? Of course not. The term will still be available for others to use in a generic sense, and it can be included in registrations obtained by others, such as a current registration for a design mark including the terms METRO KIDS COMPANY EST. 1989 TRADEMARK, owned by Parque Industrial Taveiro for use with clothing. In that registration, the owner is using TRADEMARK in a generic sense, and it had to disclaim any claim of exclusivity to the term outside of the specific design as registered.

Alas, poor TRADEMARK…

What, then, do the Burch sisters gain from registering TRADEMARK as a trademark? Essentially, no other company should be able to refer to their clothing and apparel line as TRADEMARK, alone, without any other additional terms. While the term TRADEMARK can be included in other entities’ marks, as described above, it shouldn’t be the dominant portion of the mark visually. As a practical matter, even though the applications cover the mark in block letters, they would have the greatest chances of success in objecting to use of the term TRADEMARK in a stylization similar to the block logo currently in use at their store.

The step-daughters of Tory Burch were apparently inspired by the concept of creating a “signature look” or a trademark style for their clients in developing the brand name. Accordingly, this mark is arguably in the suggestive category of trademarks in that it indicates a particular quality of the clothing, that it will help the wearer to stand out. It will be interesting to see how the TRADEMARK trademark develops over time, and it’s another example of the intricate study of language that makes intellectual property such a fascinating area of law, especially for former English majors.

Reading Assignment: Intellectual Property

Hello Everyone!  Following the second exam, we’ll be discussing Communication Law and Intellectual Property (patents, trademarks, copyright).  Please read Hopkins chapter 13, and be prepared to discuss the following cases:

Feist Publications v. Rural Telephone Service (1991)

Eldred v. Ashcroft (2003)

Golan v. Holder (2012)

Community for Creative Nonviolence v. Reid (1989)

Harper & Row v. National Enterprises (1985)

Campbell v. Acuff-Rose Music (1994)

Cambridge University Press v. Carl Patton (2014)

White Smith Music Publishing Company vs. Apollo Company (1908)

Sony Corp. v. Universal City Studios, Inc. (1984)

MGM v. Grokster (2005)

Thanks, and see you in class.

Announcement: Daniel Ellsberg Lecture at GSU on 11/12

Founders Lecture: Watergate to Snowden: The Assault on Privacy in America by Daniel Ellsberg

When:  November 12, 2014 @ 6:30 pm – 8:30 pm
Location:  100 Auburn – 100 Auburn Avenue (Room: Centennial Hall Auditorium)

Writer, lecturer and activist Daniel Ellsberg—best known for his involvement in the Pentagon Papers trial in 1971—will deliver the founders lecture, “Watergate to Snowden: The Assault on Privacy in America,” at Georgia State University on Wednesday, Nov. 12.
The lecture will take place at 6:30 theCentennial Hall Auditorium (100 Auburn Ave. NE). It is free and open to the public. The talk is hosted by the Honors College and is in recognition of past Honors Program director and Georgia State Vice President for Enrollment Management and Student Success and Vice Provost Dr. Tim Renick.
In the 1970s, Ellsberg, a military analyst with top-secret security clearances, released the Pentagon Papers, detailing the secret history of the Vietnam War. This was the biggest national security leak in U.S. history prior to recent events surrounding WikiLeaks. Ellsberg copied the report and sent it to the New York Times, the Washington Post and 17 other newspapers. Although he was indicted for stealing government documents, the case was dismissed because of government misconduct. Ellsberg, who opposed the Vietnam War, said he leaked the papers because he felt the public had a right to know what the government was doing.
Ellsberg is a senior fellow of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation and the author of three books: “Papers on the War”; “Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers”; and “Risk, Ambiguity and Decision.”

Contact Information:
Name: Mallory McKenzie
Phone: 404-413-5577

Reading Assignment: Reporter’s Privilege & Student Rights

Hello Everyone!  Next week, we will be discussing Reporter’s Privilege (or, as you’ll soon learn, the lack thereof).  For class, please read Hopkins chapters 15 & 18, Lisby chapter 6, and be prepared to discuss the following cases:

Plunkett v. Hamilton (1911)

Branzburg v. Hayes (1972)

Vaughn v. Georgia (1988) *Georgia case

Howard v. Savannah College of Art & Design (1989) *Georgia case

Atlanta Journal-Constitution v. Jewell (2001) *Georgia case

We’ll also be talking about the rights of students or student reporters.  Please read Hopkins chapter 7 and be prepared to present the following cases:

Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School Dist (1969)

Bethel School District No. 403 vs. Fraser (1986)

Morse vs. Frederick (2007)

Hazelwood School District vs. Kuhlmeier (1988)

Kincaid v. Gibson (2001)

Legal News: US Supreme Court Rejects Reporter’s Privilege Case

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By Trevor Timm, Freedom of the Press Foundation, June 2, 2014

The Supreme Court today rejected New York Times reporter James Risen’s appeal of a 4th Circuit decision that ruled the government can compel him to reveal his source under oath. The case, one of the most important for reporter’s privilege in decades, means that Risen has exhausted his appeals and must now either testify in the leak trial of former CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling, or face jail time for being in contempt of court. Risen has admirably vowed to go to prison rather than comply. 

This is the latest victory of the Obama administration in their crackdown on sources, and in turn, investigative journalism. As the New York Times again reminded us today, they have “pursued leaks aggressively, bringing criminal charges in eight cases, compared with three under all previous administrations combined.”

Make no mistake, this case is a direct attack on the press. The Justice Department has recently tightened its “guidelines” for subpoenaing reporters (which have no enforcement mechanism) and the Obama administration claims it supports a tepid journalist shield law, but this was the case where they could have shown they meant what they said about protecting journalists’ rights. Instead, they argued to the court that reporter’s privilege does not exist all, evencomparing journalists who invoke the privilege to criminals who have recieved drugs.

By going after Risen, the Obama administration has done more damage to reporter’s privilege than any other case in forty years, including the Valerie Plame leak investigation that ensnared Judy Miller during the Bush administration. The Fourth Circuit is where many national security reporters live and work, and byeviscerating the privilege there, the government has made national security reporting that much harder in an age where there has already been an explosion in use of surveillance to root out sources of journalists.

While the fight for reporter’s privilege will certainly continue, and is by no means dead in much of the country, this case is another reminder that reporters can no longer rely on the legal process to protect their sources. Surveillance has become the government’s go-to tool for rooting out a record number of sources and chilling all kinds of investigative journalism. Out of the eight source prosecutions under the Obama administration, the Sterling case is the only one where a reporter was called to testify. As an unnamed national security official reportedly once said a year ago, “the Risen subpoena is one of the last you’ll see. We don’t need to ask who you’re talking to. We know.”

[…. ] Despite the damage its already done to reporter’s privilege on the whole, the government can and should prevent Risen from going to jail by declining to call him to testify in the Sterling trial. Since the Attorney General has repeatedly stated that no reporter will go to jail for doing his or her job, that seems like the least they can do.

Legal News: City of Ferguson Demands High ORR Fees

{Image by USA Today}

By Jack Gillum, Associated Press, September 29, 2014

WASHINGTON (AP) — Officials in Ferguson, Missouri, are charging nearly 10 times the cost of some of their own employees’ salaries before they will agree to turn over files under public records laws about the fatal shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown.

Missouri’s attorney general on Monday, after the AP first disclosed the practice, contacted Ferguson’s city attorney to ask for more information regarding fees related to document requests, the attorney general’s spokeswoman said.

The move to charge high fees discourages journalists and civil rights groups from investigating the shooting and its aftermath. And it follows dozens of records requests to Ferguson under the state’s Sunshine Law, which can offer an unvarnished look into government activity.

The city has demanded high fees to produce copies of records that, under Missouri law, it could give away free if it determined the material was in the public’s interest to see. Instead, in some cases, the city has demanded high fees with little explanation or cost breakdown.

In one case, it billed The Associated Press $135 an hour — for nearly a day’s work — merely to retrieve a handful of email accounts since the shooting. That fee compares with an entry-level, hourly salary of $13.90 in the city clerk’s office, and it didn’t include costs to review the emails or release them. The AP has not paid for the search because it has yet to negotiate the cost.

Price-gouging for government files is one way that local, state and federal agencies have responded to requests for potentially embarrassing information they may not want released. Open records laws are designed to give the public access to government records at little or no cost, and have historically exposed waste, wrongdoing and corruption.

Since Brown’s death and ensuing protests, news organizations, nonprofit groups and everyday citizens have submitted records requests to Ferguson officials, asking for police reports, records about Brown and the personnel files of Officer Darren Wilson, who shot Brown Aug. 9.