It’s no secret that the Walt Disney Company is fiercely protective of its intellectual property, but the law works both ways, and they’ve been accused of wrongdoing almost from the moment that Walt’s company became successful. While researching my upcoming biography of Ward Kimball, I found a reference to a “Mann lawsuit” in his notes from 1940. Ward wrote about how animator Fred Moore had been questioned by Mann’s attorneys, as well as how animator Ham Luske had testified on the stand.
I became curious to learn more about what the lawsuit was all about. The plaintiff was Ned Herbert Mann, a well respected veteran special effects artist who had started his career working with the production designer William Cameron Menzies on The Thief of Bagdad (1924). Mann believed that he had patented an animation process back in 1934 that was similar to Disney’s and he was trying to prove that Walt had traced the mouths of characters off of photostats while producing Snow White. The Disney company was eventually able to prove that the claim was completely baseless and the judge dismissed the case.
The only information I could find online regarding the case was an article from the St. Petersburg Times from June 29, 1940. You can read the entire article below. The article is fascinating, not just for the information it provides about the Mann case, but also because it lists some of the dozens of other cases filed against Disney at the time. According to the Disney studio’s attorney Gunther Lessing, “The trouble seems to be that almost everybody sees one of his brain children somewhere in Disney’s cartoons.” Some of the cases against Disney at the time included:
* Adriana Caselotti, the voice of the character Snow White, had sued Disney because some of the songs she sang had been released as records, and she wanted a share of the record profits. The case was thrown out when Lessing produced a document that proved “she had signed all her rights in her performance to Disney every time she put her signature to her paycheck.”
* A guy in California filed a lawsuit because he claimed that one of the dwarfs used his laugh or “an exact imitation.”
* A woman filed a lawsuit which claimed that while Disney hadn’t copied her words or music, he had infringed on the spiritual feeling of her work.
* A gas station operator in Minnesota claimed he had sold 15 gallons of gas to an animator who was on vacation, and that he had suggested to the artist that the Disney studio produce Pinocchio.
The article also talks about how Disney had sued a biscuit company that was making unauthorized Mickey, Pluto and Horace Horsecollar animal crackers. The Disney company sued for $24 million dollars, but eventually settled out of court for $8,000.
Here’s the entire piece: