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California film industry watches 'Escape from Tomorrow' intellectual property issues with interest

Here in California, the movie industry is big business. Accordingly, it is an industry we pay attention to, especially since film studios and production companies are among the most vigilant and aggressive when it comes to their intellectual property rights.

One film that is generating some buzz on the winter film-festival circuit is Roger Moore's "Escape from Tomorrow." The movie, which is about one man's departure from reality as his family is visiting Disney World, was filmed inside the theme park -- without Disney's knowledge or permission.

Naturally, Disney was not happy when it learned of this. "Escape from Tomorrow" is adult fare and does not fit with the company's famously immaculate fantasy-world image.

Moore has been accused of breaking laws to film "Escape from Tomorrow," but a closer look reveals that he may actually be on solid ground, at least with respect to intellectual property protections.

Now, if Moore violated the terms of entry that come with each Disney World ticket purchase, he could have committed trespass.

As far as copyright or trademark claims (i.e. Did Moore violate Disney's trademarks and copyrights by using them in his film without Disney's permission?), Disney may not have much with which to build a case against Moore.

That's because a big part of "Escape from Tomorrow" is commentary on Disney's squeaky clean image. Disney's familiar characters and its shiny, happy environs are used for artistic effect, and in that respect the film may fit within a generous definition of fair use (which, you will remember, is a legal concept that protects limited use of trademarked or copyrighted material for artistic purposes).

"Escape from Tomorrow" is only just now gaining attention in the film industry, so we assume Disney only recently became aware of it. If a legal issue does emerge here, we will be sure to cover it on this blog.

Source: The New Yorker, "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad Disney World," Tim Wu, Jan. 22, 2013

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