By Bryan K. Wheelock, Principal
On November 14, 2017, Arthur Alfred II, Ezequiel Martinez, Jr., and Tova Laiter sued The Walt Disney Company in the District of Colorado, alleging copyright infringement and claiming that “The Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise of films, video games, theme park attractions, merchandising, casino games, literature and other related items infringe their screenplay of the same name. The focus of the Complaint is that the Captain Jack Sparrow character in the Disney productions is substantially similar to the character Davy Jones in their screenplay.
Plaintiffs claim that Jack Sparrow is “an expression of a uniquely new ‘pirate.’” Interestingly, the “idea” of humorous pirates may have been the idea of the ride’s original designer, Marc Davis, who, realizing actual pirates were not particularly glamorous, opted for a more whimsical and romanticized approach that was less threatening to younger audiences. Moreover, Johnny Depp has claimed that his portrayal of Jack Sparrow was his own invention, and almost got him fired.
The court will have to decide whether Jack Sparrow and Davy Jones are similar because they are embodiments of the same idea or because they share the same expression.