Walt Disney Company Loses Bid To Dismiss “Muppet Babies” Copyright Lawsuit

The Walt Disney Company has lost a bid to dismiss a copyright lawsuit regarding the Muppet Babies reboot series, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

What’s Happening:

  • Disney reportedly has lost a bid to dismiss a copyright lawsuit from screenwriter Jeffrey Scott, who was a screenwriter of the original Muppet Babies (1984), regarding the new reboot series on Disney Junior.
  • The lawsuit originates from the pattern of the Nanny’s socks on the show, and how they change from episode to episode.
  • U.S. District Judge Stanley Blumenfeld found that Disney may have copied elements of the show from the original Muppet Babies “production bible” that Scott created in the 1980s.
  • The lawsuit was originally dismissed due to unusual circumstances surrounding Scott’s personal bankruptcy, but after some legal maneuvering in bankruptcy court, that federal judge has now rebuffed Disney’s attempt to dismiss the lawsuit.
  • Scott sued Disney in 2020 sued Disney, but the case didn’t get far. It turned out that Scott’s bankruptcy estate owned the “production bible” central to his claims. Without ownership of the asset, he had no standing to sue.
  • After reopening his 1995 and 2003 bankruptcy proceedings to include the copyright claims in the estate, Scott refiled his lawsuit with trustee Howard Ehrenberg representing him.
  • After Disney moved to dismiss the case, Blumenfeld found that Scott sufficiently alleged that some “nontrivial elements” in his production bible and script are protectable, but that he hadn’t adequately argued the disputed works are substantially similar.
  • This time around, Blumenfeld concluded that Scott met the standard to advance his copyright claims. He pointed to numerous examples of content in the Muppet Babies reboot that Disney allegedly copied from Scott’s production bible and scripts.
  • The combination of very specific elements, including “similarity between specific scripts written by Scott and specific reboot episodes. For example, they allege that the reboot episode ‘You Ought to Be in Pictures’ copies Scott’s ‘The Muppet Museum of Art’ script, as both involve the characters viewing impressionist artwork shown in photorealistic images, including Auguste Rodin’s ‘The Thinker’ and paintings by Vincent van Gogh, Paul Cezanne, and Pierre-Auguste Renoir. And in both episodes, the character Animal exclaims, ‘Renoir!'” as stated in the order, may constitute infringement.
  • Disney also tried to dismiss Scott’s claims of fraud, which they also lost. The suit points to a particular email from an executive, Alyssa Sapire, in which concealed from Scott that Disney had no intent on including him in the reboot series, despite asking for ideas. One email cited reads: “Would you send us a one sheet on the new creative direction you intend to take with the show … This will help us move the project forward.”