Disney, producers of the hit movie “Frozen,” have been hit with a $250 million lawsuit alleging that the film infringes the autobiography of Isabella Tanikumi, or at least that’s the way E! news characterizes the suit. The report claims that Tanikumi is complaining about the theft of her life story, which would be a bit odd, given that no one owns his or her own life story. Any of us authors can write a book or make a movie based on the life of another person without his or her permission. No authorization is needed, and nor should it be, or famous politicians and celebrities would gain control over what the public can learn about them. Moreover, copyright law makes clear that we can extract the facts of someone’s life story from the celebrity’s own autobiography. However, a close look at the Tanikumi complaint shows no claim of “life story theft,” but rather a straight-up copyright claim, probably because her book, “Yearnings of the Heart,” is described on Amazon as a novel and not just an autobiography.
The most interesting part of the lawsuit is the backlash from Disney supporters. Before the lawsuit was filed, the book had been reviewed twice and given 5 stars both times. In the two weeks since the suit was filed on September 22, the book has been reviewed scathingly 49 more times and the average rating has plummeted to 1.5 stars. Ouch! Don’t mess with Disney!
I must take Ms. Tanikumi to task for thing, however. The movie has not damaged her pocketbook to the tune of $250 million. In fact, she has probably sold more copies of her work because of Disney. Her recovery, if any, would be limited to the amount customarily paid to an author for the right to use a story. I wish very much that was $250 million, but unfortunately we do not get paid nearly so much. Hopefully her next book will demonstrate as much imagination as her lawyer does in the complaint!