Lawsuits regarding films seem to be the cost of doing business much of the time. However, the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise has apparently had more problems than most, as Disney been sued over the franchise three times, by the same person. Royce Mathew is a Florida-based author who has sued Disney over the film franchise multiple times, and for the same reason, but the third time wasn't the charm as the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has now ruled against him, though not without some dissent.
In 2005 Royce Mathew first brought a complaint against Disney claiming that the films used his work. Specifically, it appears that Mathew claims to have created the idea of pirates that supernaturally transform into skeletons in the moonlight, a central aspect of the original film, Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl. However, at the time Disney presented artwork created for the original theme park ride which predated Mathew's work. The author then withdrew his complaint, and also signed a release.
That wasn't the end of the issue, however. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Royce Mathew would go on to sue Disney twice more, most recently, he claimed that Disney had "altered and tampered" with the artwork used to prove their case the first time, and had obtained his release through fraudulent means. It seems that some of this same work has since been published by Disney in Pirates of the Caribbean related art books, and not all of the information in the books matched with what Disney had presented to Mathew.
However, this most recent lawsuit never even made it to a discussion of the work in question. Instead, the 9th Circuit has upheld a lower court ruling, that Royce Mathew never properly informed Disney that he was rescinding the release he signed prior to filing the new lawsuit. Basically, the lawsuit came because Disney continues to make money off the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, but if the company had been made aware it was going to be sued, Disney may have acted differently. Two judges held to this idea, though one did dissent, arguing that the idea that Disney would not have pursued the Pirates franchise to be "implausible" and also feeling that at the very least, it was a question that needed to be explored in court.
Certainly, Disney is happy to have this legal issue behind them on the eve of the release of their next entry in the franchise, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales. Of course, that doesn't mean that Disney won't have to deal with this issue in the future. There's no guarantee that a lawsuit that's been brought three times won't be brought for a fourth as well.
For those looking for more information and to make up their own minds, we've gone ahead and embedded the most recent legal arguments below...