Wednesday, March 18, 2009
Script Based on a Fairy Tale Used in Disney Movie
Dear Rich: If I write a movie script about a fairy tale character that Disney has made a movie about -- say, Snow White -- can Disney claim copyright or trademark infringement? The script would be about what happened after the end of the Disney movie, for example. Aren't most traditional fairy tale characters in the public domain? I'm so glad you asked. Yes, traditional folklore and fairy tales are in the public domain and free for all to use -- for example, many writers have created books and movies based on Snow White. However, the scenario that you describe -- a script about what happened after the end of the DIsney Snow White movie -- is likely going to require authorization. That's because much of what we associate with that Snow White comes from Disney, not folklore -- for example, the individual names of the Seven Dwarves. Therefore, to safely pursue this course, you would need to separate out all that Disney added to the original Brothers Grimm story (including, of course, references to the songs). As for trademark rights, the Dear Rich staff has searched USPTO records and determined that Disney has filed for the federal registration for "Snow White" for entertainment services (Ser. No. 77618057), but has not (so far) convinced an examiner that it is entitled to the registration.