Disney And Warner Bros. Prepare To Fight Over Who Owns The Public Domain Wizard Of Oz

You may recall a lawsuit we wrote about last year, involving some questions about which parts of The Wizard of Oz movie were public domain, and which were still under copyright. It’s a bit confusing. The books are public domain, having first started being released in 1899. No doubt about that. But the movie, made in 1939, is still under copyright. And here’s the tricky part: which parts do the copyright cover? Technically, things directly from the book should be public domain — but any creative additions put into the movie (such as the ruby red slippers…) can be covered by copyright, and held by Warner Bros.

So, here’s the problem. Disney (not WB) has decided that it’s going to make a movie out of The Wizard of Oz — which it has titled Oz, the Great and Powerful. And it appears that WB wants to do everything possible to make life hellish for Disney if it moves forward on this plan. The first step? According to Eriq Gardner over at THResq, it was to quietly apply for a trademark on “The Great and Powerful Oz.” Note the similarity to what Disney has called its movie. Except, it turns out Disney was sitting pretty… having filed for a trademark on its version of the phrase/title… a week earlier. Thus, Disney has the lead here and WB’s application got tossed.

The THResq piece questions if WB was planning to make wider use of trademark to try to prevent things like this from happening, avoiding the fact that the copyrights on the works have long gone into the public domain.

In the past year, Warners has been one of the most aggressive filers of oppositions at the USPTO’s Trademark Trial & Appeal Board. Especially over The Wizard of Oz.

For instance, the company has gone after potential merchandise associated with Dorothy of Oz, a $60 million-budgeted animation film scheduled to be released later this year by Summertime Entertainment.

Warners also has attacked registrations on a series of neuroscience books entitled “If I Only Had A Brain,” a restaurant called “Wicked ‘Wiches Wickedly Delicious Sandwiches,” a clothing line known as “Wizard of Azz,” Halloween costumes under the brand name “Wicked of Oz,” and dozens of other Oz-related marks.

It goes on to talk about one ongoing case in particular, concerning a company selling wines in Kansas that it’s named after aspects of the Wizard of Oz. The company is claiming (correctly) that the book is in the public domain. But WB is claiming it doesn’t matter, because public domain only applies to copyright.

While that case continues, you can bet that WB won’t let Disney just go ahead and make this movie without putting up a bigger fight.

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