In July 2019, YouTuber James St. Onge published a video to his YouTube Channel Art of Engineering explaining the inner workings of the Disney’s Tower of Terror thrill ride. As part of that video, he created several engineering drawings that illustrated both the layout and the various systems that the attraction uses to pull off its effects.
In July 2021, Disney debuted a new series entitled Behind the Attraction, which among its initial episodes, featured their own episode about the attraction.
However, many eagle-eyed viewers and fans of the Disney attraction noticed some striking similarities between drawings included in the Behind the Attraction episode and those that were created by St. Onge for his YouTube shows.
This pormpted St. Onge to take to Twitter last week to highlight the similarities himself.
All this raises a simple question: Did the series copy St Onge’s work? The answer appears to be yes, but the bigger question is: Who is responsible?
Examining the Allegations
The allegations themselves are fairly simple. According to St. Onge and others who spotted the similarities, someone who worked on the series closely copied or even traced St. Onge’s work, swapping out the background color for red but largely leaving the work intact.
A close examination of the images makes it pretty clear that is exactly what happened.
While I would expect two separate schematics of the ride to be very similar, after all they are both reporting on the object, there are too many small details that overlap. To make matters worse, many of those details have nothing to do with the function of the ride and deal more with aesthetic choices that St. Onge made, especially when looking outside the ride schematic.
The most significant differences between the two sets of drawings appears to be that, where St. Onge’s was almost entirely done on a computer, the Behind the Attraction version shows signs of freehand drawing and, in some places, appears to be incomplete.
However, it’s worth noting that it wasn’t just those two schematics. St. Onge highlighted several others in his Twitter thread including this one:
And this one.
While one might be able to easily dismiss if it were just one schematic with eerie similarities, Multiple drawings that very closely mirror St. Onge’s work is indeed too much to overlook. At the very least, the Behind the Attraction drawings were closely based on St Onge’s and are likely a trace in many places.
It’s also worth noting that, according to St. Onge, he did not have access to and could not base his work on Disney’s blueprints or schematics for the attraction. That eliminates the possibility that they simply pulled from a common source (and one owned by Disney). This leaves little doubt that, somewhere along the way, copied images made it into the show.
However, this leads to the next question: Who is at fault.
Though most people seem to be blaming Disney, that’s likely not the correct answer.
Whom to Blame
Disney’s history with copyright is very well known. They have a lengthy and aggressive history when it comes to protecting their rights, even as many of their stories are based on public domain tales. The company is also routinely accused of having an outsized impact on copyright law, including the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Actt of 1998.
This has made Disney something of a copyright villain to many online and off. So, the idea of a Disney+ show about Disney attractions containing plagiarized material is something of a moment of schadenfreude for many.
However, Disney is almost certainly not the culprit here.
According to St Onge, the show was produced by Seven Bucks Productions and The Nacelle Company. The graphic design credit for the show is Jeremy Samples, someone St. Onge identifies as an award-winning graphic designer.
The truth is, we may never know who copied the content or exactly how it was copied. The nature of media production is that there are layers of contractors and subcontractors that often runs several layers deep
However, this is exactly where Disney could and should step in. Disney, as the people who are presenting the show on their network, could demand or perform an investigation and get to the bottom of this. An effort to handle this quickly, transparently and fairly would go a long way to repairing any damage to Disney’s reputation from this.
After all, Disney may not be to blame, but it is their network, they are the big name, and they are ultimately the ones that people will connect with it. They need to take the lead on this, even if they nothing to do with it.
Unfortunately though, St. Onge has said that no one from Disney or the production companies have reached out to him. As such, it looks like such an investigation is very unlikely. The reason for that may be simple pragmatism as an investigation could be used as evidence against them should the case become a lawsuit.
However, what may be best for Disney in a court of law could be actively working against them in the court of public opinion.
Interestingly, this story has not received a great deal of mainstream media coverage. Instead, nearly all the articles about it have been on Disney-focused sites like Inside the Magic, The Disinsider and Pirates and Princesses to name just three.
So while the story may not be getting huge amounts of attention, it’s definitely making the rounds among Disney’s biggest fans and supporters.
In the end, this is a relatively minor mistake. While it was incredibly dumb to take images from a YouTube video with nearly 6 million views, it is absolutely something that Disney can recover from. However, that will require significant transparency, something Disney has never been good at.
While it is unfair that Disney has to bear the brunt of blame despite not having produced the show. It is a show exclusive to their network and about their attraction. They, ultimately, are the most tied to it.
Here’s hoping that Disney, or at least the actual producers, decide to address the issue soon.