The makers of Will Ferrell’s Christmas comedy ”Elf” got a lump of coal in their stockings on Wednesday, in the form of a $1 million copyright infringement lawsuit. The suit, filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, alleges that the film’s producers and distributors lifted the work of screenwriters Gunnar Madsen (founder of Grammy-nominated a cappella group The Bobs) and Kathryn Keats, who submitted a similar script to producers in 1999.
Madsen, who these days makes children’s music (he left the Bobs, known for their instrument-free renditions of rock classics like ”Helter Skelter” and ”Purple Haze,” in 1991), says that he and Keats wrote a screenplay called ”A Roomful of Trees,” which was ”about an elf who is out of place at the North Pole and ventures to New York City to find himself and ultimately bring the spirit of Christmas back to New York,” according to a statement from their publicist. In the lawsuit, a copy of which was obtained by EW.com, Madsen and Keats say they copyrighted ”Trees” in 1999 and submitted it to Atlas Entertainment (now Mosaic Media Group) in the hopes of selling it. Instead, the plaintiffs allege, Mosaic, along with Kaija Motion Pictures Corp. and distributor New Line (all named as defendants), made ”Elf,” ”which was based upon and copied largely from plaintiff’s screenplay.” The movie, which opens Friday and stars Ferrell as an human raised as an elf who leaves the North Pole and goes to New York City to meet his real-life family, is ”substantially similar” to ”Trees” in ”plot, theme, dialogue, mood, setting, pace, and/or sequence,” the suit claims.
There’s been no official word yet from the studio or its lawyers regarding the suit or its allegations. A New Line spokesperson contacted by EW.com on Wednesday claimed to be unaware of the suit. The ”Elf” screenplay is credited to David Berenbaum and marks his first produced screenplay; he also wrote Eddie Murphy’s upcoming ”The Haunted Mansion.”