Lawsuit Alleging 'Inside Out' Ripped Off Earlier Film Allowed to Proceed in Ontario

A judge in Ontario, Canada has given the go-ahead to a man's lawsuit alleging Disney's Inside Out ripped off his earlier student film with the same title.

Since the Disney movie had been made in California, Master Andrew Graham ruled that the lawsuit could continue only against parties deemed to have substantial ties to Ontario, including Walt Disney Pictures Inc. and Pixar Animation Studios. The complaint was dropped against other entities named in the suit, such as Disney Enterprises and the ABC television network.

The Academy Award-winning Inside Out is set literally inside the mind of a young girl named Riley. Much of the film's plot involves characters within Riley's mind, consisting of personified emotions—including Sadness, Joy, Anger, Fear and Disgust.

Damon Pourshian claims that a 2000 student film he made, also called Inside Out, bears too many similarities with the Disney film to be coincidence. Pourshian's 14-minute film is said to include personified organs living inside the movie's protagonist.

inside out
Characters Joy and Sadness from the film "Inside Out" pose at the Los Angeles premiere of the film on June 8, 2015. "Inside Out" is the subject of a new lawsuit in Canada. Kevin Winter/Getty

Although the Disney film deals with personified emotions and Pourshian's appears to include personified organs, the Canadian man believes there are suspiciously strong links between the personalities of the characters in the movies. Pourshian points particularly to his "Brain" character, which he claims displays a similar personality to Disney's character "Fear."

However, the judge has yet to rule on the merits of the case. The recent ruling was based purely on whether Canadian copyright laws even applied to the case, due to the film being produced outside of Canada. Disney lawyers had sought to get the case dismissed entirely on that basis. Graham found that some of the parties did enough business in Ontario to be subject to Canadian law.

Although Walt Disney Pictures Inc. and Pixar were deemed fair game, some of the Disney companies Pourshian named in the suit were not deemed to have "presumptive connecting factors" suggesting they could fall under the court's jurisdiction.

"There are no allegations in the statement of claim that could enable the court to conclude that any of them... infringed Pourshian's copyright under the Copyright Act in Ontario or elsewhere in Canada,"Graham said in the ruling.

The film, which has made nearly $1 billion, has been subject to at least two other lawsuits in U.S. courts. In one of the suits, an author claimed the concept was stolen from a book and screenplay she had written. Another complaint, which was eventually dismissed, claimed a woman had discussed a very similar concept with Disney and Pixar executives years before the movie had been made.

Pourshian had apparently also filed a U.S. lawsuit, seeking his name added to the film's credits and unspecified damages, before withdrawing it last year.

Disney believes the claims are without merit.