A French children’s author has sued Walt Disney Pictures and Pixar Animation Studios, claiming the cartoon fish they catapulted to fame in the worldwide blockbuster “Finding Nemo” was plagiarized from his 1995 creation Pierrot Le Poisson Clown.
Pascal Kamina, a copyrights lawyer representing the author, Franck Le Calvez, confirmed in a telephone interview Monday that the case -- claiming damages for breach of copyright and trademark and demanding that they withdraw “Nemo” books and merchandise from French shops -- will come up for hearing in a French court Feb. 17.
Disney denied the claims.
“We consider the case filed in France to be totally without merit because ‘Finding Nemo,’ which is owned by Pixar and Disney, was independently developed and does not infringe anyone’s copyrights or trademarks,” according to a statement that Disney released Monday.
Aquarium buff with a dreamLe Calvez, a 33-year-old aquarium buff, said in an interview Monday that he registered Pierrot as a trademark with France’s industrial protection and copyrights body in 1995. An aspiring filmmaker, Le Calvez said he then did the rounds of French production companies and animation studios, hoping they would fall for the lovable tropical fish with white stripes and large orange bulging eyes. But he was turned down, and the little fish languished in a folder until 2000, when Le Calvez decided to make Pierrot the hero of an illustrated children’s book.
Registering the screenplay with the French Society of Authors in June 2002, Le Calvez paid nearly $71,000 to publish 2,000 copies of the book in November 2002. Illustrated by Robin Delpuech and Thierry Jagodzinski, “Pierrot Le Poisson Clown” was published by France’s Editions Flaven Scene, and the entire print run was sold in a month.
Agreeing that the uncanny resemblance between Pierrot and Nemo could be coincidental (clown fish, Amphiprion ocellaris, do look alike in nature), Le Calvez said he realized something was fishy only after French bookstore chain FNAC removed copies of his book from their shelves, claiming that it was too similar to Disney’s version.
“What’s really upsetting is that quite a few bookstores won’t sell my book because they think that I have plagiarized ‘Nemo,”’ the author said in an interview Monday. “The two fish look very similar, but it doesn’t end there.”
Like Nemo, Pierrot lives in a pink sea anemone and starts life half-orphaned because one parent was swallowed up by Liona, the scorpion fish. “The beginning of the story is the same, even if the scenarios then become different,” Le Calvez said.
Nemo may swallow Le Calvez's success
Kamina, who admitted that the film was finished by the time Le Calvez’s first book came out (a second has been written since), said he is worried that his client’s success will be swallowed up by the American fish. He said the “Nemo” idea probably found its way to the United States through one of the French studios that Le Calvez approached in 1995.
“That would be the only explanation,” he said. “It’s not just the resemblance of the clown fish, smiling with a raised fin. We have also found the same supporting characters in the film -- such as a surgeon fish and cleaner shrimp -- and gentle fish folk who help the little troubled hero. The similarities are sufficiently troubling for us to ask for an explanation from Disney.”
The lawyer said his client is still waiting for an answer from Disney and that if they don’t hear from the company, Le Calvez will press ahead with his lawsuit in France.
“I want my fish to live,” Le Calvez said.