Disney Sued by St. Louis County Men for Allegedly Ripping Off "Santa Paws" Story

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Gather 'round the fire, now: Have you heard the magical  Christmas tale of "Santa Paws"?

Neither have we -- probably because this little Disney number went straight to DVD.

But when two men from St. Louis County came across the Disney film, The Search for Santa Paws, their jaws dropped. Oh, they'd heard the story alright: They'd written something quite similar, according to their claims filed in federal court today. And now they believe Disney has stolen it.

"Dickens could not have come up with a more Scrooge-like scenario," says their Clayton attorney, Al Watkins, who has made a name for himself in David-vs-Goliath copyright cases. "Why not just kick the crutch out from under Tiny Tim and sell it on e-Bay?"

Plaintiffs Ray Harter Jr., Ed Corno and Richard Kearney knew each other in the 1990s from having worked together at a local advertising firm. (Kearney now lives in Tennessee; the other two live here).

They came up with a story, Santa Paws: The Story of Santa's Dog, wherein Santa Claus adopts a misfit dog with huge paws and takes him to the North Pole.

But then, an evil witch, who's helpfully named Evila (and turns out to be St. Nick's jealous sister), tries to cast an icy spell over the world. So Paws infiltrates her castle, steals her magic icicle, breaks the spell on Santa, and saves the entire holiday. Yes, he's a dog.

The authors copyrighted the story in 1991. They asked William Morris Agency to shop it around. By 1996, various entities were showing interest, including Buena Vista Home Entertainment, Inc., an arm of Disney. But nothing ever came of it, Watkins says.

That is, until thirteen years later, when Disney -- the same entity that had once expressed interest -- released Santa Buddies: The Legend of Santa Paws in 2009, and the next year, The Search for Santa Paws.

According to the federal complaint, these Disney films include:
instances of verbatim and nearly verbatim lines of dialogue and screen activity at comparable key plot points, as well as eerily similar uses of a magical icicle and magical Christmas tree in addition to the obvious overarching similarity of expressing a story about Santa's new dog who saves Christmas in spite of the best efforts of a domineering and holiday-spirit-less female antagonist.
Daily RFT isn't sure just how similar the projects are, because we haven't seen the Disney DVDs (come on, who's got time for DVDs when there's all this peppermint schnapps just sittin' around, waitin' to be drunk, by the case, am I right? Am I right? Can we get a....There's so much sadness.)

Attorney Al Watkins with a Santa Paws toy.
Attorney Al Watkins with a Santa Paws toy.
But the second Disney film isn't an exact replica. It involves a New York City orphanage. It also contains a scene in which a little girl risks her life by climbing into an incinerator, thereby traumatizing various young viewers (if parent reviews on Amazon are to be believed).

Disney has been informed of the lawsuit, Watkins says, and is investigating the matter.

"That investigation should've occured many years ago," the attorney says. "How would they like it if we stole Tinker Bell? St. Louis might've lost Albert Pujols, but I'll be damned if I let us lose Santa Paws."

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