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Published: Wednesday, 11/20/2002

Disney sued over design of Epcot


An heir of an Hawaii artist who drew plans for “Miniature Worlds” in the early 1960s with an Ohio man claims that Disney stole the concept for Epcot “and passed it off as [its] own.”

Mark Waters II drafted renderings on behalf of Air Force Lt. Col. Robert Jaffray, whose family has long believed that the Miniature Worlds concept became the framework for Epcot.

Orrin Corwin of Arkansas filed the lawsuit yesterday in U.S. District Court in Orlando, Fla. He took care of Mr. Waters before he died in 1997 and had been designated as Mr. Waters' personal representative. He is not related to Mr. Waters.

Attorneys did not cite in the complaint the amount of damages being sought, but hinted it would be substantial. An estimated nine to 10 million people visit Epcot every year, making it the third-most popular amusement park in the country. It costs $48 for an adult one-day pass; $38 for children ages 3 to 9.

“Even under the kindest royalty models, the potential damages in a case of this nature are simply staggering,” said John Stemberger, a Florida attorney who is part of the legal team pressing the claim.

A Disney spokesman discounted the lawsuit, saying a similar claim by Mr. Waters' family in U.S. District Court in Rhode Island was dismissed.

“This is a frivolous case that has everything to do with financial gain and nothing to do with the pursuit of the truth,” Marilyn Waters, a Disney spokesman, said.

Disney has said the idea for Epcot was inspired by world's fairs and a desire to build something different from the other entertainment parks for which the entertainment company had become distinguished.

Before he died in 2000, Mr. Jaffray, a former intelligence officer who worked at the Pentagon, told The Blade he conceived Miniature Worlds as a way to foster world understanding during the Cold War. Mr. Jaffray said he had shown Disney officials the Miniature Worlds plans in 1963 and had given them copies. Disney declined to invest in the plan, he said.

Given the amount of time that has passed since Epcot opened and the Jaffray-Waters plans were drafted, it may be difficult to prove the claims, said a California attorney who handles copyright infringement cases.

Attorney Tony Kling said yesterday that Mr. Corwin will also have to prove several points, including the succession of the copyright from Mr. Waters to himself.

“A case that is 20 years old, you expect defense attorneys to put up arguments of statute of limitations ...,” Mr. Kling said after he reviewed the lawsuit.

Indeed, a U.S. District Court judge threw out a similar case against Disney earlier this year on the same grounds. That lawsuit was filed on behalf of Mr. Waters' ex-wife and her daughter.

The Waters and Jaffray families are irked by the similarities between Epcot and the Jaffray-Waters plan. Both feature a huge globe on one side of the park and a lake on the other, surrounded by village nations with islands, boats, rails, and gardens.

Epcot has two parts: Future World, which has arts and science pavilions, and World Showcase, the part that bears the resemblance to Miniature Worlds.

A Blade review two years ago of more than 21 world's fairs and expositions showed that Epcot, especially the World Showcase, shares far more similarities with the Jaffray-Waters plan than any world's fair.

Although he lost the Rhode Island case, attorney Donald Woodbine believes the truth is with Mr. Jaffray and Mr. Waters. Mr. Woodbine saw their plans and was struck by the similarity with Epcot.

“I think it's pretty clear that it's very similar,” he said. But, he said, “proving something in court is always different than something that we know to be true.”

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