The Ninth Circuit ruled in favor of Disney • Pixar in a copyright lawsuit attacking the highly acclaimed motion picture, “Inside Out,” on March 26, 2020.
The plaintiff claimed that her characters, The Moodsters, were infringed by the central characters in “Inside Out” – anthropomorphized emotions that reside in the mind of an eleven-year-old girl. The Court affirmed the district court’s dismissal of the lawsuit at the pleadings stage, holding that The Moodsters characters failed to meet the threshold requirement of copyrightability. Unlike especially distinctive characters worthy of copyright protection, The Moodsters were not sufficiently delineated or recognizable as the same characters wherever they appeared.
The Court was clear, however, that characters with especially distinctive traits – and more than just a generalized idea – remain copyrightable independent of the works in which they appear. Writing for the Court, the honorable Judge Margaret M. McKeown explained that The Moodsters, unlike Godzilla, James Bond, or the Batmobile, lacked “identifiable and consistent character traits and attributes across iterations,” were “not especially distinctive,” and had no “unique elements of expression.”
Munger, Tolles & Olson partner Mark Yohalem argued the appeal for Disney • Pixar, following appellate briefing and a district court victory by Munger, Tolles & Olson partner Erin Cox and Munger, Tolles & Olson attorney Anne Conley.