local animation “The Autobots” copied elements from Disney’s own hit
movie “Cars”, as the U.S. firm looks to protect its drive into the
world’s second-largest economy.
A court in Shanghai held a hearing on Tuesday, a Disney
spokeswoman confirmed to Reuters. The dispute was over “copyright
infringement” and “unfair competition”, according to a notice on the
Shanghai Pudong New Area People’s Court website.
Disney is making a major push into China with the
recent opening of a $5.5 billion theme park in Shanghai, its first on
the mainland, while its animated movies including “Zootopia” and “Big
Hero 6” have been big box office hits in the country.
The iconic U.S. firm, however, faces tough competition
in the market from local theme park developers, popular Chinese
animations as well as counterfeits from merchandise to fake Disney
hotels. Chinese authorities have promised to give Disney “special”
“The Autobots” drew ire from netizens in China when it
was released last year, with some pointing out similarities with
Disney’s 2006 film “Cars” starring Owen Wilson and its sequel in 2011.
“Cars 3” is penciled in to be released next year.
Zuo Jianlong, the director of “The Autobots” for
production company Blue MTV, told Reuters in an interview on Wednesday
he was “relaxed” about a potential ruling.
“Lots of people online have talked about plagiarism,
but it seems from the legal side that the matter is quite clear – at
root there is no plagiaristic behavior,” he said.
“If you put the two films side-by-side to compare them, then you will know they are completely different.”
Disney declined to comment further on the case.
The Chinese film is about animated racing cars
including main heroes K1 and K2, while Disney’s offering follows the
story of legendary racing car Lightning McQueen.
The three Chinese firms involved in the suit are
production company Blue MTV, media company Beijing G-Point, and online
content platform PPLive Inc.
An official for Beijing G-Point, who gave her name only
as Ms Cheng, said the firms had hoped to reach a settlement, but Disney
had been opposed to this. She added G-Point was not involved in
production, but rather in the film’s distribution.
China’s box office hit around 45 billion yuan ($6.8
billion) last year, and is growing fast, a lure for overseas studios to
tap into the market despite a cap on imported films, censorship concerns
and a rising challenge from locally made movies.