Disney's 'Frozen' Lawsuit Claims Trademark Infringement

By Aditi Mukherji, JD on December 27, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Every holiday season, one major blockbuster movie gets embroiled in a trademark lawsuit. Last year, it was "The Hobbit." This year, it's "Frozen." Disney filed a trademark suit against Phase 4 Films, claiming its film "Frozen Land" was renamed to leach off the success of Disney's animated hit.

But can movie titles be trademarked?

Trademarked Promotional Materials

Less than three weeks before the Hollywood premiere of "Frozen," Phase 4 theatrically released an animated movie called "The Legend of Sarila." The Disney trademark lawsuit against "Frozen Land," one of the titles "Sarila" was released under, is all about the title and appearance of promotional materials, reports The Hollywood Reporter.

Movie titles can't be trademarked (with the exception of series titles like "Harry Potter"). But movie studios can trademark the title -- its distinctive words and slogans -- in other contexts, such as for merchandise.

Confusingly Similar?

Under the Lanham Act, entities can't sell goods designed to confuse consumers about the origin of that good. Think of it like a "cheap knock-off" rule.

In the complaint, Disney claims that Phase 4 knew of "Frozen," and "redesigned the artwork, packaging, logo, and other promotional materials for its newly (and intentionally misleadingly) retitled film to mimic those used by [Disney] for 'Frozen' and related merchandise."

To demonstrate Phase 4's intent to replicate Disney's trademarked logo and confuse consumers, Disney included side-by-side images of the two logos in its complaint (look at page 10 for the images). They pointed to the following similarities in the two films' titles:

  • jagged, uneven edges on the lettering;
  • dramatic flourishes on the letters;
  • an elongated R and Z that cradle a stylized O that curves into itself and does not close entirely; and
  • the word "frozen" stands out (i.e. the word "frozen" is significantly larger than the word "land").

Last year, Warner Bros. sued a mockumentary titled "Age of Hobbits," and obtained an injunction forcing the film to change its name.

In this case, Disney is asking for an injunction and destruction of all DVDs for "Frozen Land." In addition, Disney seeks compensatory damages, lost profits, and actual damages.

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