Lawsuit to continue over origins of Disney's Epcot

By MIKE BRANOM, Associated Press Writer
ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) - A federal judge declined to dismiss a
lawsuit that claims the Walt Disney Co. stole the idea for Epcot Center from an artist's painting of a theme park featuring the world's nations.
Judge Patricia J. Fawsett rejected Disney's defense that the statute of limitations barred the suit.
She also ruled in an order April 10 that a lawsuit brought by the artist's wife and daughter in 2001 -- and later dismissed because the statute of limitations had long expired -- had no effect on the current claim.
The artist, Mark Waters II, died in 1997. His sole heir is the lawsuit's plaintiff.
"We have a long and hard legal battle ahead of us in this
historic and fascinating case. But for now, this is a major
victory," said John Stemberger, the attorney representing the artist's estate.
Stemberger said he expects Disney will be required to disclose financial information on profits.
"The judge has simply given them an opportunity to prove they have a case," said Disney spokeswoman Marilyn Waters, who isn't related to the artist. "When the facts come out, it will be clear they do not."
Waters' 1961 painting for Miniature World, based on a U.S. Air Force officer's concept, bears a striking resemblance to Disney's Epcot, which opened in 1982. Both parks have hourglass shapes, large spheres at their entrances and a lake surrounded by pavilions representing different countries.
According to the lawsuit, Lt. Col. Robert M. Jaffray of Ohio met Waters while stationed in Hawaii. Jaffray took the painting to Disney officials in 1963, only to have the company turn down his pitch.
The plans Disney unveiled for Epcot in 1979 looked much like Waters' painting.
When the lawsuit was filed, Disney said it had no merit and was financially motivated.
Jaffray, who died in Wooster, Ohio, in 2000, went to his grave claiming credit for Epcot. The company responded by releasing volumes of sketches, photos and memos as evidence that there was no theft.
Disney has maintained that the World Showcase section of Epcot, which features pavilions displaying cultural exhibits from 11 countries, was inspired by World's Fairs. Also, Epcot has a section devoted to futuristic technology that wasn't part of Miniature World's plans.
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)