Judge Rules Against St. Louis County Men in "Santa Paws" Lawsuit Filed Against Disney


Al Watkins and Santa Claus, before a federal court hearing, asking: Where is the real Santa Paws? - PHOTO BY NICHOLAS PHILLIPS
  • Photo by Nicholas Phillips
  • Al Watkins and Santa Claus, before a federal court hearing, asking: Where is the real Santa Paws?
On Thursday, a federal judge ruled against two St. Louis County men who had accused Disney in a lawsuit of stealing their Christmas-themed tale, "Santa Paws," and spinning it into a pair of DVD movies by the same name.

In granting Disney summary judgment, U.S. District Judge Catherine Perry conceded that there were indeed some "abstract similarities" between the recent Disney features and the 1991 storybook created by St. Louisans Ray Harter Jr. and Ed Corno (a third plaintiff, Richard Kearney, now lives in Tennessee).

For example, both works involve an orphaned dog who gets adopted by Santa and saves Christmas. Then there was also something about a magic icicle (?).

But on the balance, Judge Perry wrote, Disney's DVDs "are not substantially similar to any protected expression in plaintiffs' story." 

Al Watkins and Santa Paws: The Stuffed Dog
  • Al Watkins and Santa Paws: The Stuffed Dog
What's interesting about all this is that the plaintiff's attoney, Al Watkins, claims to have evidence that Disney was actually exposed to the 1991 storybook: In the early nineties, the three authors 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.

Then over a decade later, the DVDs came out. The men found out and filed the suit last December. 

However, apparently that the case didn't progress far enough for any of this to be an issue.

Watkins did e-mail us this statement:
It appears the Court's opinion was well thought-out, consistent with legal precedent and crafted eloquently. That being said, my clients disagree with the subjective findings giving rise to a resounding victory for Disney. Tinker Bell should be very proud.

Riverfront Times works for you, and your support is essential.

Our small but mighty local team works tirelessly to bring you high-quality, uncensored news and cultural coverage of St. Louis and beyond.

Unlike many newspapers, ours is free – and we'd like to keep it that way, because we believe, now more than ever, everyone deserves access to accurate, independent coverage of their community.

Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing pledge, your support helps keep St. Louis' true free press free.