If you've ever heard Larry Lessig's stump speech on creativity and copyright, you know that it has a chunk in the middle dedicated to the fact that Disney, one of the biggest proponents of copyright extension to keep Mickey Mouse protected, has a long history of taking the ideas of others and reusing them in their own stories. In fact, the biggest irony is the fact that Disney "stole" (using their language) the very idea behind Mickey Mouse's Steamboat Willie debut from Buster Keaton's Steamboat Bill -- which came out the same year. Plenty of other popular Disney movies all came from using content in the public domain -- but not all of it. William Patry goes through the court battle from about a decade ago where questions were raised about Disney's rights to the story of Bambi. Turns out they might not really have owned the rights to it. Patry focuses on the case and why the ruling is exceptionally bad, but even more interesting to me is the lengths Disney went to try to win the case. As Patry notes, they basically threw out every possible argument to see what stuck, including claiming that Bambi was really in the public domain and then that it wasn't in the public domain, but that Disney owned the rights to it, rather than the heirs of the author of the story. So whenever Disney claims some moral right to keep extending copyright, it seems like the Bambi fight is worth pointing out as a counter example alongside the Steamboat Willie story.
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