On January 27, 2021, the Walt Disney Company filed a motion to dismiss a copyright infringement lawsuit brought by television writer Jeffrey Scott in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. According to the complaint, Disney “interpolated” the ideas Scott shared with them from his 1984 “Muppet Babies” production bible for their 2018 reboot and then breached his 1984 agreement with Disney by failing to pay his royalty fees.
In their motion, Disney refutes Scott’s claims, citing a deal from the 1980s in which late Muppets creator Jim Henson licensed intellectual property to Marvel Productions Ltd for “Muppet Babies.” Henson included “specific conditions” that retained ownership over copyright to the characters and the concept for the show.
Scott argues that he was hired by Marvel in 1984, was paid a fixed sum for each script, received royalties, and was given rights to write new episodes in the future. Disney purchased the Muppets characters in 2004, along with the entire catalog of shows and movies. Scott asserts that once Disney bought the Muppets characters, his original deal between Henson and Marvel was no longer honored.
Disney asserts that Scott was brought onto “Muppet Babies” only after the concept of the show was already in place before the deal. In addition, Disney points to two other facts to refute Scott’s claim. First, Scott purportedly only registered a copyright for the 1984 production bible in 2019, three years after Disney’s intention to reboot the “Muppet Babies” was widely publicized. Second, Scott cannot assert any copyright claims because his 2003 bankruptcy filing did not mention the “Muppet Babies” among his intellectual property.
In their motion to Dismiss, Disney argues that all claims should be dismissed. Disney insists that Scott “bears the burden of showing that he clearly conditioned the disclosure of his alleged ideas for the Muppet Babies reboot on compensation, but his allegations do precisely the opposite” because “Scott had already disclosed those ideas to Disney in the 1984 bible and scripts for the original series.”
Scott is represented by Howard E. King and Stephen D. Rothschild of King Holmes Paterno & Soriano LLP.
Disney is represented by Erin J. Cox, Mark R. Yohalem, and Brandon E. Martinez of Munger Tolles & Olson LLP.
The case is Jeffrey Scott v. The Walt Disney Co. et al., case number 2:20-cv-09709, in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.
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