Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Question: Is the Happiest Place on Earth going to be really unhappy?

My new WIP takes place inside a well-known theme park. I know it is OK to use locations in books within reason, but the entire book takes place inside this theme park, and terrible things happen, albeit nothing slanderous/libelous/offensive to the park specifically.

Can I do this? Or do I have to make up a pretend theme park? 

You mean like Murder on the Orient Express?
Or Murder at the White House?

My guess though is you mean Disneyland or Disneyworld.  I can tell you the Mouse House is fierce about brand protection.  If you want to see what I mean type "Murder at Disneyland" into the Amazon search engine. Not much pops up.

Which says to me that what you'd think would be a target rich environment for  murderous writers (I mean, really, don't you want to kill someone after hearing It's a Small World After All for the n+1th time?) has almost no hits. Which leads me to think that publishers put the kibosh on the title, or the legal wolverines at Disney do.  It doesn't matter who pulls the plug.

On the other hand, Robert Crais (the recently named 2014 Grandmaster of the Mystery Writers of America) set a shootout at Disneyland and no one said a word, so there's that.

The bottom line is you can write what you want and see what happens. Anyone can sue to stop you and the legal department at a publisher can say "it might lead to lawsuits so change it." There's no hard and fast answer.

If you write it, will you be willing to change it?  That's the real question.


Jim heskett said...

set it at Universal Studios. Or Six Flags. The fact that those parks are lesser-known would make it more original, anyway

Josin L. McQuein said...

The House O'Mouse has an entire series set in their parks (and on their cruise line), and a lot of good lawyers to make sure it's not worth the hassle for anyone else to try and do the same. People don't call copyright and trademark laws the Mickey Mouse Acts for nothing.

Kitty said...

Years ago a comedian talked about his horrible experience with a certain airline. He brought a lawsuit and was advised by his lawyer not to mention the airline by name. I can't tell WHICH airline it was, but I can say it was an American airline (wink-wink nudge-nudge).

Terri Lynn Coop said...

Disney sues daycare centers for unauthorized character murals and claims unlicensed movie viewings when kids bring their fav vid for movie day. They are truly despicable. And Josin is right. The current state of copyright law is almost entirely because of lobbying by the Maus Haus and their gang of jack-booted legal thugs.

Another consideration is, unless you've worked there, the odds of getting all the little details correct are slim. There is a world within a world that civilians don't see (a former boss was an imagineer there.) Creating your own world lets you control the behind the scenes parameters.

Elissa M said...

The question says, "nothing... to the park specifically." This leads me to believe the specific park is not integral to the story.

If it were me, I'd focus on making my story slam-bam exciting and not worry too much about setting it in a real place. I'd make sure all the amusement park details were accurate as far as amusement parks go, but I would make up my own park. It's not that hard to invent a park that readers can relate to without actually using any particular (real) park.

BonnieShaljean said...

I'd steer well clear of the long arm of Uncle Walt and any risk of being on the receiving end of Mouse Power. Re-read what Josin and Terri Lynn said above. Then take a peek at the following. Here's one cruise-line episode you won't find in their series:

Michael Seese said...

First, let me state that I respect the right of the House Of The Mouse to protect their brand, which doesn't include murder. (Though apparently, attempted murder -- see "Snow White" -- is OK.)

Still, in cases like these I just love to thumb my nose by writing a setting / characters that is so close you CAN'T miss the point.

So set your story in Dizzyworld. Have a character lament that he'd much rather be in California, in Dizzyland. Have them go on a ride where a bunch of little mechanical dolls sing, "It's a tiny planet after all..."

I hereby grant you permission to use that. (Though if your book becomes a huge hit, I probably will sue your pants off.)

BonnieShaljean said...

No sooner had I posted the above and decided to switch off and read An Actual Book, than my eye fell on (as in "first-I'll-just-take-one-teensy-little-peek-at…") Longreads. Which had this piece concerning a film set in Disney World:

The low-budget unsanctioned film Escape from Tomorrow is a better-than-documentary look inside the Freudian neurotics of the Magic Kingdom.

When people die in Disney World, medics, who arrive in unmarked emergency vehicles, treat and talk to the corpse as though it’s just a passed-out visitor, so as not to alarm other guests and dispel the magic. By policy no one actually dies on Disney property—they are always still “alive” until they arrive at a hospital, outside the confines of the theme park.

This last, at least according to anonymous employees in the book Inside the Mouse, whose reports are sufficiently tangled up with rumor and urban legend at this point to make none of these claims “verifiably true” — claims which Disney has, furthermore, frequently quashed with the threat of a libel suit.

What is clear is that people die at Disney World, and Disneyland, and EPCOT, not because of ride malfunction so much as undetected congenital heart conditions, heat stroke, or other illnesses. And workers die on the job—drivers, maintenance, performers: a lot of head trauma from failed acrobatic stunts or falls from catwalks.

Rest of the article is here:

Geekamicus said...

Is this why the National Lampoon movie had them visit Wally World?

On a side note, once upon a time, I had a boss who was a serious stick in the mud. A conference he attended trotted them all over to Disney. He wouldn't do the roller coasters, but he thought that Small World would be nice and calm. Sure, except it broke down and he was trapped in there for four hours. Apparently the music never stopped playing.

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

My poor dad. When I was six, and he took me to Disney, we rode "Small World" a number of times. Many times. He had his revenge and made me go on Space Mountain, but I don't recall Space Mountain having a song.

Personally, if I was going to write Murder at the Theme Park™, I'd make up my own. In a way, one could then make it the Platonic Ideal of the Theme Park, because if you're going to go something like that, go big or go home, right?

Plus, you could do something about those ridiculous food prices....

Mark Koopmans said...

I opened EuroDisney in 1992 (it was a busy day) and soon after, all us young wags from all over Europe soon called the place EuroMisery and/or EuroDismal.

My point: Change the name to protect the hangovers of the innocents.

Stephanie said...

Unless the story was based on Disney, revolving around specific rides and characters, the writer could create his or her own world. The reader would obviously understand that this was a fictitious place based on Disney but not using their brand. Think Wally World.
There is a childrens book series called The Kingdom Keepers that is set underground at Magic Kingdom. I don't know if there is malice involved, but they use the brand. Also, I recently read a YA book where one of the characters was traumatized as a child because someone was beheaded on a ride he was on at Disney. People are definitely using it.

Dotti said...

Ridley Pearson has a middle-grade series called The Kingdom Keepers: Disney After Dark. It's set inside Disney World.

Anonymous said...

In Neil Gaiman's Sandman comic "The Dolls House," a serial killer hung out at "Fun Land." He was a fat young man who wore a black cap with cat ears on it, obviously a takeoff on the classic "mouse ears" hat.

From what I've read, this was originally intended to be Disneyland, but better safe than sorry, even if you're Neil Gaiman.

Anonymous said...

If the writer is really setting his book in Disneyland or Disney World, he might be interested in the movie Escape From Tomorrow. It's an independent film that was shot covertly in both parks, and it chronicles a man slowly going crazy on his last day of vacation. Animatronics come to life, he gets tasered in sensitive areas by staff members, you name it, it happens. And it was really shot (mostly) in the parks.

Most people assumed it'd be an automatic cease and desist from Disney, but they actually stayed mum on it and ultimately it looks like they aren't pursuing legal action, mostly because they don't want to draw more attention to the film. The movie never mentions the word "Disney" and for the most part trademarked names and images are kept out of it.

But after he watches it, he should read about the production history. The director, actors, and crew all went through hell to get it made. They were worried about being kicked out, arrested, or sued, at every step.

Bottom line, I'd want to read that book. But is it going to be worth the stress for you?

The Writer Librarian said...

I sung there once as part of a high school choir, and the Disney people were very strict about us tucking in our long-sleeved shirts all the way and buttoning them all the way to the top.

If you're interested in world building ideas, I've heard there is a jail (or security area) beneath the park. And the "characters" are sometimes security people. And then there's this

Regardless, do what's true to your story, whatever that might be.