Is the Law of Character Copyright in Chaos?
Article By Ann Potter Gleason
The National Law Review
December 23, 2020

Will the Supreme Court turn Disney’s Inside Out upside down by granting a petition for certiorari filed by the creator of The Moodsters? Two articles in the National Law Review outline the controversy between Disney and Denise Daniels, an expert on children’s emotional intelligence. In short, Daniels and her company, The Moodsters Company, sued Disney claiming Inside Out, portraying five personified emotions battling for the mind of a young girl, infringed Daniels’ alleged copyright in The Moodsters, five characters color-coded to emotions. But both the trial court and the Ninth Circuit applied the “sufficient delineation” standard for copyrightability of characters and concluded that Daniels’ Moodsters enjoyed no copyright protection. Daniels v. Walt Disney Co., No. 18-55635, 2020 U.S. App. LEXIS 7481 (9th Cir. Mar. 10, 2020). In August, Daniels’ company (hereinafter “Daniels”) filed a Petition for Writ of Certiorari asking the US Supreme Court to settle what she characterizes as “uncertainty” in the law of character copyrights. (Moodsters Co. v. Walt Disney Co., Petition for Writ of Certiorari No. 20-132 (Aug. 3, 2020)). In part, Daniels argues that the standard for copyright abilty of characters is fractured. Has Daniels conjured up a chimera, or have the circuit courts indeed created mayhem in the standard for character copyright?

To understand the controversy, note the precise question at issue. Daniels claims a copyright in the characters she created—not the works featuring the characters. In other words, she isn’t claiming that Inside Out infringed her copyright in her 2005 pitchbook for a proposed television program, known as “The Moodsters Bible,” or her 2007 pilot television episode. Instead, she is claiming Disney has infringed her alleged copyright in The Moodsters characters themselves, which she defines as “five gendered anthropomorphic animated characters each paired with a core body color that live[ ] together ‘inside a child,’ and which each include[ ] many other nuanced expressions.” (Petition for Cert. at 7).

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