“As commentary on the social ideals of Disney World,” Randy Moore‘s Escape From Tomorrow “seems to clearly fall within a well-recognized category of fair use, and therefore probably will not be stopped by a court using copyright or trademark laws,” according to The New Yorker‘s Tim Wu.
“Escape from Tomorrow is, essentially, a commentary on a shared social phenomenon, namely the supposed bliss of an American family’s day at Disney World. In Moore’s version, the day is a frightening and surreal mess that destroys the family forever. The film isn’t so much a criticism of Disney World itself but of the unattainable family perfection promised by a day spent at the park.
“It’s important to understand that Disney does not have some kind of general intellectual-property right in Disney World itself. It is not a problem to film the Magic Saucer ride. The case would depend on the appearance of Disney’s trademarks or copyrighted works in the background of the film, like when Goofy wanders by or when we see the waving robots in ‘It’s a Small World.’ Filming these works without justification would be an infringement of the copyright law.
“The question is whether they are ‘fair use’ — or in other words, whether technical infringements are negated because they are justified by public policy. If there were a fire in Times Square, TV-news teams would be free to film there despite all of the copyrighted billboards in the background, given the public’s interest in the reporting and the First Amendment’s protection of the press.
“Under copyright law, commentary and parody are well-established fair-use categories, and this is where the film likely falls.”
A possible wrinkle, says Wu, is that Moore “may have committed trespass when [he] broke Disney World’s rules” by violating the terms of entry on their tickets. It should be a fairly easy matter to read these terms of entry and determine if what Moore did is/was actionable.