Plot Twist: 'Total Recall' Screenwriter Sues Disney for Stealing 'Zootopia'

By George Khoury, Esq. on March 24, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Gary Goldman, the screenwriter for 90s classic science fiction film 'Total Recall,' has filed suit against Disney for allegedly stealing the characters, concepts, plot and sub-plots, verbatim dialogue, and even the name he created for his animated talking animals project, 'Zootopia.'

Goldman has alleged that he pitched his idea to Disney twice, once around 2000, and again almost a decade later. His lawsuit includes the drawings of his cute cartoon characters, alongside their alleged counterparts in the Disney film, in an attempt to show the striking similarities. Despite how cute the pleading may look, there are some real big allegations being cast at Disney.

You Can Make a Squirrel Into Rabbit, but You Can't Escape Copyrights

Copyrights are a specific form of intellectual property rights that protect the authors of creative works, or those whom license or purchase the legal rights to use a creative work. In his lawsuit, Goldman is alleging that many themes and elements of the plot and storyline are lifted from his work, which shared the same title.

Although the characters in Goldman's work and Disney's finished product are all technically different, that does not forestall a copyright claim. In addition to direct violations of another's creative work, creating derivative works can also be a violation of copyright law. Disney claims to have approached their project from a different angle, having started as an animated spy film, and then eventually changing to the current rabbit detective story.

Systematic Theft of Copyrights

Goldman isn't just claiming that Disney stole his idea for this one project, but that Disney operates with a regular pattern and practice of stealing others' creative work. The lawsuit literally lists six prior incidents on the first page:

They [Disney] did it with The Lion King when they copied Osamu Tezuka's Kimba The White Lion. They did it with Toy Story when they copied Jim Henson's The Christmas Toy. They did it with Monsters, Inc. when they copied Stanley Mouse's Wise G'Eye. They did it with Up when they copied Yannick Banchereau's Above Then Beyond. They did it with the Frozen trailer when they copied Kelly Wilson's The Snowman. And, they did it with Inside Out when they copied Frédéric Mayer's and Cédric Jeanne's Cortex Academy, among other sources.

Goldman alleges that Disney fosters an environment that encourages and accepts the copying of non-Disney owned creative works. In addition to the claims for violation of copyright, he has brought claims for unfair competition, breach of an implied contract, and breach of confidence. Disney denies all of Goldman's allegations, calling them "patently false," and plans to "vigorously defend" themselves.

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