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Walt Disney Prods. v. Filmation Assocs. - 628 F. Supp. 871 (C.D. Cal. 1986)


Under the 1976 Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C.S. §§ 101-914, "copies" are material objects in which a work is fixed by any method now known or later developed, and from which the work can be perceived, reproduced, or otherwise communicated, either directly or with the aid of a machine or device. The definition includes the material object in which the work is first fixed. Further, a work is "fixed" in a tangible medium of expression when its embodiment in a copy is sufficiently permanent or stable to permit it to be perceived, reproduced, or otherwise communicated for a period of more than transitory duration. When the work is prepared over a period of time, the portion of it that has been fixed at any particular time constitutes the work as of that time, and where the work has been prepared in different versions, each version constitutes a separate work. To constitute an actionable copy, therefore, an expression need only be a material object permanently cast in some intelligible form.


Plaintiff, owner of copyrights in animated characters, brought an action against defendants under 17 U.S.C.S. § 106 (1) and the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C.S. 1125 (a), alleging copyright and trademark infringement. Defendants brought a motion for summary judgment arguing that materials created in the production of a motion picture could not be the subject of an action for copyright infringement and that no substantial similarity existed between defendants' works and any of plaintiff's copyrighted works. Defendants also argued that their advertisements were dissimilar to plaintiff's trademarks and that the claims must be dismissed for failure to show actual diversion of sales.


Could the materials created in the production of a motion picture be the subject of an action for copyright infringement?




The motion for summary judgment was denied where the absence of a completed motion picture did not preclude a meaningful comparison of plaintiff's character depictions and film with defendants' materials, a reasonable person could have found substantial similarity between plaintiff's copyrighted materials and defendants' work. Also, the court held that evidence of some of the factors relevant to the showing of a likelihood of confusion was sufficient to show that a consumer of defendants' goods could have been confused by its advertisements.

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