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: