Jeffrey Scott, a screenwriter on the original 2d-animated Muppet Babies series, has lost a lawsuit targeting Disney’s recent reboot. He alleged that the new series infringed a production bible he created for the original, but the case was sunk by his own 2003 bankruptcy.
According to the complaint, which was filed in a California federal court last October, Scott owns the production bible he created for the original show, which was produced by Marvel Productions and The Jim Henson Company and aired in 1984–91. The complaint states: “The Muppet Babies Production Bible created the show’s nursery setting, the child versions of the characters, the mix of entertainment and education, and the blueprint for its stories.”
Scott accused Disney of “misappropriation” of his contributions to Muppet Babies with its reboot, which premiered in 2018. The complaint states that he pitched a reboot to Disney executives back in 2016.
Disney’s lawyers retorted that the concept of infant Muppets was actually created by Jim Henson, notably appearing in a dream sequence in the feature The Muppets Take Manhattan, which was filmed in 1983. They also argued that Scott had no copyright claim to his bible because he could only have legitimately contributed to the 1980s series on a work-for-hire basis.
Disney’s winning argument…
Ultimately, it was another defense that won Disney the case. The company pointed to Scott’s 2003 Chapter 7 bankruptcy, claiming that the assets he disclosed at the time did not include the bible. This would undermine his claim to own the bible.
U.S. District Court Judge Stanley Blumenfeld has sided with Disney on this point, concluding: “Because Plaintiff has no ownership interest in the Work or its purported copyrights, Plaintiff lacks standing to pursue the present lawsuit.” The judge dismissed Scott’s claims without prejudice, meaning he can try again if he manages to reclaim copyright.
The case initially promised to probe important matters regarding tv writers’ claims to intellectual property and the extent of protection of production bibles. Now that it has been derailed by the bankruptcy, those questions remain unexamined.
Scott wrote many episodes of the original series, for which he also has a “developed by” credit. He won three Emmys for his work on the show. His credits also include Super Friends, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Pac-Man, Hulk Hogan’s Rock ‘n’ Wrestling, and Sonic the Hedgehog.
The Muppet Babies reboot, which is cg-animated, airs on Disney Junior and Disney Channel. It has won two Emmys and is up for an Annie this month.