Cars vs. Autobots: Disney sues China firms in copyright dispute

Wed Jun 22, 2016 2:53am EDT
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By Adam Jourdan

SHANGHAI (Reuters) - Walt Disney Co has taken three Chinese firms to court over concerns 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" trademark protection.

"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."   Continued...

Expanded Disneyland California Adventure Park features a new attraction in Cars Land called Radiator Springs Racers, which gives guests a scenic tour of Ornament Valley in racing convertibles in Anaheim, California June 5, 2012.    REUTERS/Alex Gallardo/File Photo