Sometimes you just have to let it go. An author who claims that Disney stole her story about growing up in Peru to form the basis of Frozen lost an appeal dismissing her $250 million copyright infringement claim.

We need to start with an important premise, Frozen, well Disney claims, is based off of an 1844 Hans-Christian Andersen book, The Snow Queen, that has long fallen into the public domain. This means that any person can use the characters and story to create a book or even a movie. One pro se plaintiff doesn’t believe Disney’s story but claims that Disney ripped off her book and has been fighting with Disney ever since.
In 2014, Isabella Tanikumi, representing herself, filed a lawsuit against Disney claiming that her book, Yearnings of the Heart, formed the basis of the hit Disney movie. Yearnings of the Heart, oh man that is ripe for a Lifetime movie, tells the story of the author’s life born in the mountains of Peru, surviving a devastating earthquake, suffering a kitchen accident that scars her face, and then enduring the tragic death of her sister by a drunk driver. Tanikumi then moved to the United States, had plastic surgery to fix her scars, fell in love with someone who didn’t feel the same way, got married to someone else and then reconnected with her first love on Facebook to only have an awkward meeting.
Sounds just like the story of Frozen, right? The first judge hearing the case didn’t think so either finding that the two stories were not substantially similar. The closest similarity the judge could find was the theme of intense sisterly love. The judge dismissed the case and denied the $250 million request for damages and an injunction forbidding the further distribution of the movie. There was indeed a sequel to this loss.
Plaintiff then sought to revive her $250 million copyright infringement case by filing a notice of appeal to the Third Circuit. The Third Circuit agreed with the District Court finding that the only similarities pertain to generic plot and theme ideas. While both stories featured a mountain setting, an intense sisterly bond, and an untrue lover, copyright law does not protect such common topics and plots. The Court even said the stories are quite different because one is a biographical story about a person’s intense life and the other a lighthearted comical children’s tale…that features a singing snowman.
It could get worse for the plaintiff because, as the loser of the case, Disney can seek recovery of its attorneys’ fees. Sometimes you just need to…let it go.
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