The Mouse And The Musical: Battle Over Idea Rights Fort Worth Man Says He Had ‘High School Musical’ Idea First Bennett Cunningham
Reporting (CBS 11 News)
Paul Cozby says The Walt Disney Company is making millions off his idea for a Broadway show.
More than two years ago Cozby says he had an idea.
“ ‘Wouldn't it be funny to write about a high school doing a musical?’ and the title came to me and very soon after that the plot,” the Fort Worth man recalls.
He admits it seems quite a feat for someone who can't read sheet music. Cozby's “High School Musical” was born in Spring 2004.
This version is the story of a football jock who leaves the gridiron for the stage.
It was an instant success. The musical was performed in local theatres all over North Texas to rave reviews, Cozby says.
One evening, however, the curtain came crashing down.
“There was a shout from the den, ‘Dad, ‘High School Musical’ is on TV!’ We went and looked and that is how we found out about it.”
“High School Musical” debuted on Disney Channel on Jan. 20, 2006.
Cozby's wife, Sherry, describes it as a “punch in the stomach.”
Paul Cozby says “when you lay these two works side by side — as we have done for many people — without exception they will point out the similarities that they find amazing.”
Aside from identical titles, both stories are about athletes versus drama students. In both versions, the main character is torn between being in the musical or playing for a sports team.
The differences are: characters names, all the music and the sports. In Disney's version the male lead, Troy, is the captain of the basketball team while Cozby’s story revolves around Johnny Rocket, the football hero.
The Cozbys filed a lawsuit alleging Disney copied their version. According to the Cozbys’ lawyer, Disney is getting rich off of the Cozbys' idea.
Since the January broadcast release, reports show 1.2 million copies of the DVD, which was released in May, have been sold.
Until the Aug. 25 Disney Channel premiere of “The Cheetah Girls 2,” “High School Musical” set a network record of 7.7 million viewers, according to reports from Nielsen Media Research and a February article in USA Today. “The Cheetah Girls 2” had 7.8 million viewers on its first night.
Both movies were directed by Kenny Ortega.
During a phone inquiry, a Disney representative stated: "We know of no connection between our movie and his [Cozby's] show. Our movie was independently developed. It may be a coincidence that the title was the same but there is no merit here."
Cozby thinks the entertainment giant should have known.
In February 2006, Disney sent several e-mails to the North Texas couple to acquire the domain name www.highschoolmusical.com
, which is owned by the Cozbys ala The Musical Machine Inc.
When negotiations failed, Cozby says Disney immediately trademarked the name. In the fall, Disney began a Disney Channel television campaign inviting schools to visit the Disney Website for information on staging their own productions.
A movie sequel is planned for August 2007. The road show production, which includes 40 cities, comes to American Airlines Center on Dec. 17.
Despite Disney’s franchise frenzy, the Cozbys aren't giving up. They say they have the proof they invented it first.
The couple just moved to New York City and have set their sights on Broadway.
“I hope that it ends that we get the proper credit for the work that is ours,” Paul Cozby says.
No one returned calls when CBS 11 attempted to contact the Disney writer.