There was an important legal ruling last week that is certainly an important one in the world of animation, namely that Pixar did not rip-off the character of Lightning McQueen from some race driver named Mark Brill.
Why would any animator be concerned about a ruling between a hugely successful studio and a race driver that they never heard of before? Well, for one, Brill alleged that Pixar had blatantly plagiarised the design of his actual race car, and as a result, he felt entitled to damages resulting from misappropriation of his intellectual property (i.e., the car).
Thankfully, the lawsuit has been tossed out at the first hurdle and saves everyone a whole lot of consternation and energy as a result. The important point is that the court used a test devised for a lawsuit from the early 1990s, when Vanna White (of Wheel of Fortune fame) sued Samsung in the famous “robot with a blonde wig” lawsuit, where the court devised a method of determining whether or not the average person in the street could differentiate between the affected party and the resemblance.
In the Cars case, the court ruled that
a fictional, talking, driver-less red race car with the number 95 on it cannot be construed as a likeness of a driver of a similarly coloured/numbered race car
Once again, the case highlights the lengths that some people believe they can go to in order to protect their ‘likeness’. This is an important issue for animators where it is often common for them to lampoon and parody famous (or infamous) people. Being aware of the freedoms and limitations of doing so are well worth keeping in mind.