How does one put the brakes on a $654 million juggernaut?A screenwriter who says that he had pirates on the brain long before Johnny Depp inserted his first gold tooth is going to try. Royce Mathew has sued the Walt Disney Co., Buena Vista Home Entertainment, Jerry Bruckheimer Films, Touchstone Home Video and 24 other related enterprises that had a stake in the 2003 blockbuster Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl for copyright infringement. In his complaint, available online at TMZ.com, the Florida resident claims that over the last two decades he "created and wrote a number of original works including drawings, screenplays, outlines, blueprints, storyboards, and other original materials which included multimedia works, which he generally entitled SNPM, standing for Supernatural Pirate Movie." Just a working title, we presume. He also stated that he eventually filed his drawings, which included sketches of a pirate ship that he named the Black Pearl, as well as a blueprint and screenplay draft for his ghostly pirate caper, with the U.S. Copyright Office. Mathew also says that he created characters called Will Turner and Elizabeth, along with an eccentric pirate captain and a cursed crew. There was no immediate comment from either Disney or Bruckheimer on the complaint.
Mathew is seeking unspecified monetary damages and an injunction prohibiting the 28 defendants from publicly displaying the movie (i.e. through DVD rentals, online downloading, soundtrack and merchandise sales, network broadcasts, etc.). Curiously, Mathew's suit was filed last Friday, just before the first of two planned sequels, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, blasted the box office wide open, taking in a record $135.6 million and pretty much guaranteeing that this franchise is going to end up in billion-dollar territory.Per the complaint, Mathew supposedly showed his early sketches and other materials to "a variety of employees and agents" of the named defendants, both privately and through the William Morris Agency and Creative Artists Agency, with the hope that his project would get the go-ahead. Alas, matey, he was told that his idea wouldn't make a "financially rewarding project." But despite the fact that Disney has been linked with a certain swashbuckling theme park ride called Pirates of the Caribbean since 1968, Mathew felt that The Curse of the Black Pearl pilfered plot lines, event sequencing, characters, dialogue, mood, setting, pace, concept and its overall tone from his Supernatural Pirate Movie. Arrgh. Although the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court's Central District of California does not mention Dead Man's Chest or the upcoming At World's End, slated for a May 2007 release, it asks the judge to issue an injunction against The Curse of the Black Pearl and "other infringing works." Could that include the newly refurbished Pirates ride at Disneyland and Disney World, which since June 26 has featured animatronic Captain Jack Sparrow figures and a story line that's more in sync with the hit films? While fellow codefendants Disneyland International and Walt Disney Parks and Resorts could theoretically be in for a fight, they've got on their side almost 30 years of history and one of the most powerful multimedia companies in the world. We're going to place a bet on the strength of Disney and, well, let it ride.