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Is the Ratatouille TikTok Musical Legal?

LOS ANGELES, CA - AUGUST 01:  A general view of the atmosphere during the TikTok US launch celebration at NeueHouse Hollywood on August 1, 2018 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Joe Scarnici/Getty Images)
By Laura Temme, Esq. on December 31, 2020 10:09 AM

Editor's Note: When originally published, this blog mistakenly referred to Emily Jacobsen and Daniel Mertzlufft as contributors to the Ratatouille film, rather than the musical. We apologize for any confusion.

A few months ago, 17-year-old TikTok user Blake Rouse released two songs he wrote based on Disney-Pixar's 2007 film Ratatouille. Musical theatre fans, missing their (our) fix after spending months being unable to see shows, quickly jumped in. Other users, including Emily Jacobsen and Daniel Mertzlufft, contributed more songs. 

Soon what began as a lark on TikTok quickly grew into a full-fledged project featuring the talents of several big-name Broadway stars, including André De Shields, Wayne Brady, Adam Lambert, Mary Testa, Kevin Chamberlin, Priscilla Lopez, and Tituss Burgess in the role of Remy the rat.

Now, Ratatouille the TikTok Musical is just one day away from its world premiere as an online musical theatre experience. Proceeds from the one-night performance will benefit The Actors Fund, an organization that provides a financial safety net for performing arts and entertainment professionals. The Actors Fund has been especially important this year, as the coronavirus pandemic forced theatres to close for most of the year.

But for the handful of us that are musical theatre fans as well as copyright nerds, a question remained: What role is Disney-Pixar playing in all of this?

So, Is #Ratatousical Legal?

At first glance, no, it's not. Copyright law in the United States grants copyright holders exclusive rights over derivative works - creations that use major elements of a copyrighted work. But it seems that, despite its history of being very protective of its properties, Disney has given the project its blessing. In early December the company provided a statement to The Verge, saying:

"Although we do not have development plans for the title, we love when our fans engage with Disney stories. We applaud and thank all of the online theatre makers for helping benefit The Actors Fund in this unprecedented time of need."

Given the short amount of time the show will be available and the charitable cause it supports, it was probably in Disney's best interest to just let this one go. Because that's the interesting thing about copyright law - in many ways, non-compliance is the norm. New works are created from old ones all the time. And it often just comes down to giving credit where credit is due.

Not to mention, how many more people are likely to head to Disney+ to watch the original film now? 

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