Scene from Secretariat; (L-R) Nelsan Ellis, John Malkovich, Otto Thorwarth

Scene from Secretariat; (L-R) Nelsan Ellis, John Malkovich, Otto Thorwarth

John Bramley Disney Enterprises, Inc.

Disney Files Secretariat Movie Lawsuit

New York suit seeks to prove 2010 film doesn't violate announcer's publicty rights.

Walt Disney Pictures and Buena Vista Home Entertainment has filed a lawsuit in New York that seeks to prove the 2010 film Secretariat doesn't violate the publicity rights of former CBS track announcer Charles Anderson, Eriq Gardner of The Hollywood Reporter wrote July 3.

Anderson, who died in 1979, originally called the 1973 Belmont Stakes (gr. I) when the legendary runner took the Triple Crown with the famous lines "Secretariat is widening now! He is moving like a tremendous machine!" According to the studio, the late announcer's heirs have spent two years since the film came out arguing that Anderson's voice was used in it without authorization. 

Disney says Anderson's voice was not used in Secretariat, and the lawsuit seeks a declaratory judgment that the film does not violate his individual publicity rights.

"The defendants couldn't be reached for comment, but from the looks of the complaint, it appears as though they might be prepared to argue that there should be protection anyway since the races were originally called by him," wrote Gardner. "No word on whether the film actually used Anderson's words, but the plaintiffs add that the film is entitled to First Amendment protection as an expressive work."

Anderson's family also alleges that DVD and Blu-Ray releases of the film included bonus materials that featured historical footage with Anderson's voice. Disney and Buena Vista say the footage was licensed through CBS Broadcasting and all publicity rights and copyrights belonged to CBS as part of a work-for-hire agreement.