Disney Defeats Lawsuit Brought By Company Owning Evel Knievel's Rights Over 'Toy Story 4' Character

from the vroom-vroom dept

Roughly a year ago, we discussed a lawsuit brought by K&K Promotions, the company that holds the trademark and publicity rights for the now-deceased stuntman Evel Knievel, against Disney. At issue was a character in Toy Story 4 named Duke Caboom, a toy version of a motorcycle stuntman that certainly had elements of homage to Knievel. But not just Knievel, which is important. Instead, a la several lawsuits Rockstar Games has faced over characters appearing in the Grand Theft Auto series, Caboom was an amalgam of retro-era stuntmen, not a faithful depiction of any one of them, including Knievel. And, while some who worked on the film even mentioned that Knievel was one of the inspiration points for the character, they also noted that Knievel’s routine, garb, and mannerisms were hardly unique for stuntmen in that era. Despite that, K&K insisted that Caboom was a clear ripoff and appropriation of Knievel.

Well, Disney moved to dismiss the case, claiming essentially the above: Duke Caboom is based on a compilation of retro-era stuntmen. And the court has now ruled, siding with Disney and dismissing the case.

The ruling from U.S. District Judge James Mahan concluded that the Disney character — a 1970s stuntman action figure — “contains significant transformative elements” that make the character “’reminiscent’ of Evel Knievel, but not a literal depiction.”

Mahan noted the discrepancies between the real-life celebrity stuntman and the animated supporting character from the film.

“The action figure has a different name, different clothing, Canadian rather than American insignia, the addition of a moustache and a different hair color and style,” Mahan wrote.

The reasons for siding with Disney don’t stop there. The court put this issue through the Rogers test. The court concluded that Duke Caboom was an integral character in the film (this author can confirm that, having seen the film), that there were no attempts at convincing film-goers that Knievel was in any way involved in the film’s production, nor that the character was a 1-to-1 likeness of Knievel. This is the GTA stuff all over again, in other words. The character is a combination of several retro-pop-culture references to stuntmen from decades past, incorporating elements from several individuals to create a new character. Given the film’s free speech and artistic protections, the court really had no other way to rule on this.

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the case is that no settlement was reached prior to this ruling. It has become depressingly typical for these cases to not reach a conclusion and result, instead, in some confidential ruling where nobody knows if or how much money changed hands in either direction. That would lead me to believe that K&K either was unwilling to play settlement ball or, perhaps more likely in this instance, Disney knew it was on such solid ground, it didn’t need to engage in settlement talks.

Either way, it’s nice to see a ruling get this right on artistic and speech grounds.

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Companies: disney, k&k promotions

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Comments on “Disney Defeats Lawsuit Brought By Company Owning Evel Knievel's Rights Over 'Toy Story 4' Character”

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39 Comments
Anonymoussays:

That would lead me to believe that K&K either was unwilling to play settlement ball or, perhaps more likely in this instance, Disney knew it was on such solid ground, it didn’t need to engage in settlement talks.

What’s depressing is that had the defendant not been as endowed and resource-affluent as Disney, it’d probably have gone to settlement. It’s sad that the only way you can fight nuisances like this is by having enough clout and resources to make prospective opponents back off.

Bloofsays:

Given the subject material of Toy Story, the Ideal Toy Company Stunt Rider toy of Evel is what inspired Duke, rather than Evel himself, and Evel’s heirs have no ownership of that. Amusingly, the IP respecting Knievel heirs are selling a reproduction version of said toy which doesn’t seem to have any involvement from Mattel (Who bought out Tyco who bought out Viewmaster who bought out Ideal), funny that.

Samuel Abramsays:

Re:

What’s depressing is that had the defendant not been as endowed and resource-affluent as Disney, it’d probably have gone to settlement.

What’s even more depressing is that in this instance, Disney are the good guys when it comes to ©. I never thought I would see that coming, but principles are principles even when bad actors are found on the right side and vice versa.

tpsays:

Re:

so here you have found a clear use case for my 3d engine. I thought techdirt couldn’t find it, but guess you proved us wrong. Basically hologram support is available in the builder tool and displaying motorcycle is clearly possible with the technology. So there you have it, if you’re right and there’s demand for holograms like this, then my 3d engine can fulfill the need. No further proof is required.

General consensus has been that the technology is useless, but you’re seriously going against the flow. You will be rewarded for your bold action, and our technology has now proven its worth.

PaulTsays:

Re: Re:

Wow… if you think you’re being badly treated when you incompetently try to compete with far superior 3D modelling software, just wait till you try to compete in an area that’s more dependent on hardware than software. Hardware that’s already had numerous highly effective public examples of it working to a high standard.

You… are aware that mature, effective tech already exists in the hologram space, right?

tpsays:

Re: Re: Re:

You… are aware that mature, effective tech already exists in the hologram space, right?

Yes, I’m a proud owner of looking glass holographic display, and for some odd reason, my software can actually render holographs in that display. (check for 2 looking glass boxes in windows version of builder tool)

So yes, the hardware has been available for a while now.

tpsays:

Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

as has software that’s been producing higher quality results for years than you’ve ever demonstrated with your software.

I don’t care about the other software. As long as my clients do not know that the other software exists, everything is fine in la la land… if they learn about the other software, we can claim our software is easier to use, and then our clents will not explore that option any longer.

PaulTsays:

Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

"As long as my clients do not know that the other software exists, everything is fine in la la land"

I thought you schitck was demanding that copyright be rewritten to suit you because you failed to get clients?

"we can claim our software is easier to use"

You claim a lot of things that are demonstrably false.

The fact is, other people managed to create photorealistic holograms in live settings years ago, whereas you’re never demonstrated anything with your software than an Amiga 500 user wouldn’t have laughed at in 1991. Good luck.

Stephen T. Stonesays:

You can technobabble all you want, but it doesn’t change how you can’t prove⁠—conclusively, objectively, and inarguably⁠—that your programs is easier to use than industry standard programs…or that it can create holograms…or that it can suck my dick. Making a claim is one thing; proving it is something you’ve never been able to do, you genocidal sadist.

tpsays:

Re:

You’re not a lawmaker, a judge, a king, or a god⁠—which means you have no power here.

Programmers have different kind of power. The power to control decisions that computers are making. You just need few years of work to gain ability that ordinary people would consider unnatural. This is why I’m building a web site, to let other people see first hand how powerful I have become with software and the millions of transistors that control our lifes. The only information needed is the ability to turn computer source code into provable theorems.

tpsays:

Re: Re: Re:

We saw an incompetent display of software, where the creator had to explain in here that it was meant to be dynamic rather than a video of 30 year old vintage animation, because the actual site didn’t impart that informations.

I think you’re focusing slightly wrong area of the software. The technological marvel isn’t really the important part. The original requirement that the site fulfills is that the graphics must look nice. There’s whole communities focused on getting graphics display look nice on computers. It came as significant disappointment that computers weren’t able to display cool graphics like we’ve seen on movies without significant investment in graphics quality. Basically film technology that can actually do the cool graphics is over 200 years old, and computers with their 30 year lifespan are constantly trying to catch up. But as said, the tech marvel isn’t the significant part, when the requirement is that it just needs to look nice.

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