Disney Unable to Dodge Copyright Infringement Suit by Special Effects Company
Steven T. Lowe
On August 16th, 2021, a Judge of the United States District Court for the Northern District of California ruled in favor of a special effects company, and against Disney, on a motion for summary judgement in a copyright infringement dispute. Disney used the special effects company’s technology to animate characters for blockbuster films including Beauty and the Beast, Deadpool, and Guardians of the Galaxy. The special effects company owns technology called “MOVA Contour Reality Capture Program” (“MOVA”) which allows filmmakers to capture high-resolution recordings of faces that can be converted into “photoreal” extremely authentic 3D images for movies and video games.
Originally, Disney contracted with a different special effects company, but it turned out in a separate litigation, that the other company had no rights to the technology. Once that determination was made, the rightful owner, Rearden Mova (“Rearden”), filed suit against Disney seeking a portion of the profits Disney received from movies in which Disney used MOVA to animate its characters.
Rearden claimed in its opposition to Disney’s “motion for summary judgement,” which is a motion that Disney filed to get the Court to throw out the case, that Disney used clips created through the use of MOVA software in its trailers, which Disney knows to be “one of the biggest drivers of film attendance.” Additionally, Rearden claimed that Disney promoted the use of MOVA software to stir up more excitement leading up to the release of its films.
Disney’s motion argued that Rearden failed to show a “causal nexus” between Disney’s use of clips in trailers for its movies and Disney’s profits. Further, Disney claimed that “countless components” contribute to the box office success of their films, and that it’s not possible to attribute the profits derived from its films to any single component.
The Court was not convinced by Disney’s arguments. In the Court’s opinion, the Court found that a jury might reasonably believe that a portion of Disney’s profits were derived directly from its use of MOVA. Specifically, the Court pointed to statements by Disney officials regarding the technology, the prominent placement in movie trailers of scenes created through the use of MOVA software, and the significant cost Disney saved as a result of MOVA’s capabilities. The case will continue to trial.
Rearden is represented by Steve W. Berman, Mark S. Carlson, and Rio Shaye Pierce of Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro LLP.
Disney is represented by Kelly Klaus and Rohit K. Singla of Munger Tolles & Olson LLP.
The case is Rearden LLC et al. v. The Walt Disney Co. et al., case number 3:17-cv-04006, in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California.
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