The Walt Disney Company is facing allegations that its most recent animated films utilized motion-capture technology stolen from a San Francisco-based company by a contract that Disney employed.
Rearden LLC, the Northern California company in question, has filed claims in court about the use of its copyrighted facial motion capture technology, which it believes Walt Disney Animation Studios wrongfully used in several films. Although U.S. District Judge Jon Tigar previously denied Rearden’s motion to claim ownership of the Disney movies and games allegedly developed using the stolen tech, new bids to sue the Southern California industry leader for copyright infringement remained.
To elaborate, Rearden developed a new form of animation sequencing called MOVA Contour technology operated by Rearden Mova LLC, which takes footage of real-life actors filmed in phosphorescent makeup by synchronized cameras and applies software that translates their movements into “lifelike character animations.” Then, according to Rearden, a former employee stole secure equipment and copies of the patented program in 2013 before moving to another company called DD3.
Because Disney later contracted DD3 to work on some of its live-action CGI releases with MOVA Contour, Rearden attempted to lay claim to both the films themselves and the accrued profit. Perhaps, animators used the tech for recent company hits such as Beauty and the Beast (2017), Avengers: Endgame (2019), or even the upcoming The Little Mermaid (2023).
As reported by Courthouse News, Disney petitioned for summary judgment in 2020, arguing that there was no link between Rearden’s evidence of intellectual property trademark infringement and Disney box office earnings, which the Ninth Circuit supported. Even so, Rearden still protested that because Disney, knowing DD3 used stolen facial performance software, did not terminate its contracts for both films to prevent patent infringement, the animation mogul is “secondarily liable” for any damages sustained.
As a result, Disney filed a motion to dismiss back in October, stating that the LLC’s claims (which pertain to partially ineligible patents) were “far-fetched.” Now, it seems Judge Tigar has ruled in Disney’s favor, finding no proof that Disney’s contractor utilized Rearden’s copyrighted technology because the plaintiff’s complaint fails to “plausibly argue” direct infringement by DD3 and thus secondary infringement by Disney.
Due to this lack of substantial evidence, the federal judge dismissed the case without prejudice on Tuesday. While this is certainly a win for the Walt Disney Company, it likely won’t be the last lawsuit it will face due to its status and financial success.
Both Rearden LLC and Disney declined to comment on the lawsuit ruling in the original Courthouse article and have not provided official statements since.