Michael Eisner May No Longer Run Disney, But His Views On Intellectual Property Haven't Changed

from the not-so-surprising dept

Nick Dynice writes in to ask our thoughts on the interesting interview Liz Gannes conducted with former Disney CEO, Michael Eisner. At the end, after saying he thinks the Viacom lawsuit is "very promising," he puts forth a monologue about the importance of intellectual property in history -- saying patents were important since the time of Lincoln. I guess, his history lessons didn't go back to the founding of our country when folks like Jefferson felt quite conflicted about whether or not a patent system was actually good for the country. It's no surprise that Eisner would be such a strong supporter of intellectual property rights -- after all, many have noted that it was Disney's strong lobbying under his watch that helped extend copyrights again and again, just to keep Mickey Mouse's copyright out of the public domain. However, he seems to be confusing correlation with causation again. Stronger intellectual property laws often follow periods of innovation, when the innovators want to then be able to sit back and protect their works rather than keep innovating. Disney is a perfect example. Mickey Mouse itself was a play on a popular movie at the time, and many of Disney's works pulled from the public domain. It's only after Disney was able to create derivative works that it wanted to deny everyone else that same ability. In the meantime, it might be worth pointing out that Eisner left Disney as the company was faltering -- and his replacement Robert Iger has helped revitalize Disney not by focusing on controlling its intellectual property, but in freeing it up and making it easier for consumers to do what they want with it (though, he's still got a long way to go).

Eisner also seems to not grasp the concept of user-generated content at all. He says: "If you can"t pay young user-generators down the line to do it professionally, they won't be motivated to go into that business." The thing is, plenty of people involved in user-generated content aren't doing it for the money -- but for the fun, the exposure and the reputation. He may be worried that they won't go into the space "professionally" if there's no business model, but that assumes (falsely) that you need strict copyright control to have a business model. As more and more creative professionals are realizing, that's not true at all. There are lots of ways to make money off of content by embracing things like having your fans promote your work on YouTube, and using that to help sell other things. Just because Eisner doesn't see those business models, it doesn't mean they don't exist -- though, it may make you wonder about the potential for the online video companies he's been investing in lately.


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  1.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 30th, 2007 @ 10:11am

    With the exception of ridiculing...

    Why was Eisner even asked?

    Were they just looking for fodder to kick em while he's down? Whatever thoughts he has on the subject are essentially invalid, as he was a miserable failure in the execution of said thoughts....

    More interesting would be to ask the same questions of Steve Jobs (the 'acting' owner of disney)... We know in this "thoughts on music" memo that he thought DRM was a bad idea in general.

    I'm willing to assume that the contract iTMS has with the riaa-studios requires him to DRM all music equally, however....

    Now that he is the acting owner of Disney & Pixar, the very next DVD they ship better not have any CSS on it, as Disney has absolute control over that.

     

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  2.  
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    Brian, Mar 30th, 2007 @ 10:57am

    Protecting characters?!?! *gasp*

    "[Eisner] helped extend copyrights again and again, just to keep Mickey Mouse's copyright out of the public domain"

    And he would have been crazy not to. Allowing Mickey Moust to fall into the public domain would be a billion dollar mistake. I'm curious what you think Disney would gain by opening up their intellectual property to anyone and everyone? (And I don't mean that in a sarcastic manner - I'm genuinely curious.)

     

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    rstr5105, Mar 30th, 2007 @ 11:11am

    opening up IP

    #2 Opening up their IP (aside from what the law states) would, IMHO, force them to really innovate. They make so much money off of Mickey et al that they don't really need to create any new characters just keep merchandising the old.

    Further, by creating new need to innovate the company would come out of, again IMHO, the stagnation that it's in. I've seen a FEW good disney movies recently but since the mid 90's the quality of their sole productions has been increasingly diminshing. In any other industry when the quality of your product declines so does the quality of your company. The revenue earned from Mickey et al most likely compensates for this.

    All of that is just an opinion but it's why I think that disney should be forced to follow the same copyright law as the rest of us.

     

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    Mike (profile), Mar 30th, 2007 @ 11:24am

    Re: Protecting characters?!?! *gasp*

    And he would have been crazy not to. Allowing Mickey Moust to fall into the public domain would be a billion dollar mistake. I'm curious what you think Disney would gain by opening up their intellectual property to anyone and everyone? (And I don't mean that in a sarcastic manner - I'm genuinely curious.)

    Well, there are a few issues here. First off, copyright is not for the sole benefit of the creator of content. It's supposed to be part of the "bargain" between the creator and the public -- and if the copyright at the time Disney created Mickey Mouse was sufficient incentive it's hard to see how it possibly makes sense to extend it. The point of copyright is to give the right incentives for creation. How are we adding new incentives to create Mickey Mouse once it's already been created?

    Second, at no point will Disney be losing the *trademark* on Mickey Mouse -- just the copyright.

    Third, as someone else pointed out, it would push Disney to innovate more.

    Fourth, Mickey Mouse has actually stagnated as a character -- and, in fact, it's synonymous with something "weak". Letting others generate new life into the Mickey Mouse concept could help Disney attract more interest.

     

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    drtaxsacto, Mar 30th, 2007 @ 11:28am

    Eisner's comments

    Is any of this a surprise? Eisner is part of the problem. But then he also was when he worked for Disney.

     

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  6.  
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    drtaxsacto, Mar 30th, 2007 @ 11:31am

    Re: Protecting characters?!?! *gasp*

    I guess Brian thinks that intellectual property is not a limited right. The entire debate in this country when the copyright standard was adopted was whether there needed to be any incentive for the creation of ideas. With all due respect, Mickey is a derivative character whose first movie, Steamboat Willie, was taken in large measure from a Buster Keaton movie called Steamboat Bill. Why should Disney get to keep that little gem in perpetuity?

     

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  7.  
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    Brian, Mar 30th, 2007 @ 12:14pm

    Re: Protecting characters?!?! *gasp*

    I must be confused as to what copyright really means. My limited understanding is that it is there to protect a company's intellectual property, branding, characters, etc. For example, I can't take Ronald McDonald and have him star in my commercials for Brian's Burger Joint. To me, that seems reasonable - just like allowing Disney to dictate who can use Mickey Mouse as a character.

    "...it would push Disney to innovate more". Isn't this another way of saying, your best characters are so popular that now they are no longer yours - and we benefit because now you have to go back to the drawing board and create new ones which, if you are successful, will suffer the same fate. Therefore, creating characters that are too popular is not in your interest because then you lose control of them. (I'm sure I'm over simplifying...)

     

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    Ayal Rosenthal, Mar 30th, 2007 @ 12:51pm

    The purpose of copyrights is to ensure that the innovator (or in most instances copyright holder) has creative/artistic control over his/her creation. Monetizing that use, such as for a commercial or a movie, is an example of such control and it provides incentives for innovators to continue creating new works. However, prolonging the use of copyrights, such as the Mickey Mouse Protection Act, serve to entrench existing copyright holders to the detriment of innovation. Similar to patents, copyrights should have a relatively finite life-span to both allow the creter to monetize the item at hand and encourage new innovation. Unfortunately, Eisner seems forget that in his history lesson.

     

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    Mike (profile), Mar 30th, 2007 @ 2:08pm

    Re:

    The purpose of copyrights is to ensure that the innovator (or in most instances copyright holder) has creative/artistic control over his/her creation.

    Sort of, but not quite. The actual purpose is to encourage the creation of new works. The giving the innovator/artist control is to create that incentive. So, the purpose isn't to ensure creative control -- the purpose is to create incentives for new works.

     

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    Beefcake, Mar 30th, 2007 @ 2:55pm

    Re: Re:

    The protections Brian talks about are valid, but the issue is that they are not supposed to exist forever. Plays, novels, music, everything have copywrite protections to compensate the creator, but at some point the society which provided that compensation and accepted the work gains communal ownership of it. Kind of like rent-to-own furniture. Eventually, you have more than paid the owner the cost of the sofa, and it's been in your house for so long that it's yours to do with as you please.

    Disney has led the charge in pushing that sunset back again and again, which really makes a mockery of the process. By their argument, we should have to pay Sophocles's heirs royalties every time someone stages Agamemnon, or retells one of Aesop's fables. The irony is that Disney has made an ungodly amount of money off of other stories which entered public domain, such as Cinderella, etc.

     

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  11.  
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    Smitty Werbenjaegermanjensen, Mar 30th, 2007 @ 3:21pm

    Disney Movies Based On Public Domain

    Off the top of my head I can think of:

    Cinderella, Snow White, Pinocchio, Tarzan, Oliver & Company, The Jungle Book, Alice In Wonderland, Sleeping Beauty, Robin Hood, Beauty & The Beast, Aladdin, Hercules, Treasure Planet, Chicken Little.

    Any that I forgot?

     

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    Beefcake, Mar 30th, 2007 @ 4:04pm

    Re: Disney Movies Based On Public Domain

    I dunno-- The Lion King, if you consider it's just a mashup of Henry IV Pt. II and Othello. But I don't think that counts. :o)

     

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    Bumbling old fool, Mar 30th, 2007 @ 8:08pm

    Re: Re: Disney Movies Based On Public Domain

    The lion king is even worse, its a direct ripoff of a japanese cartoon. They didn't even have to rewrite anything.

    They got away with it because in the country it was released in, copyright was not automatically granted. All disney had to do was draw "disney-like" toons, and of course, market the hell out of it.

     

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    Wizard Prang, Apr 2nd, 2007 @ 7:33am

    Well, you asked...

    First up, there is no such thing as "intellectual property" Copyrights and Patents are supposed to be for a limited time - they are "loaned, not owned", and hence cannot be considered "property" in any sense of the word.

    Copyright is intended to protect the public domain from "It's-mine-forever" Corporate Interests, not the other way round. Think about it; Disney could not have gotten a head start without the public domain, but they are trying like mad to avoid putting anything back.

    When Mickey Mouse first showed up, it was with the understanding that he would go Public Domain after a set period. That was the deal. Disney are now bending over backwards to renege on that deal, even if it means changing laws. That is just plain wrong.

    You call it a billion-dollar mistake. I disagree. The objective of Copyright - to encourage innovation - has been satisfied thousands of times over.

    They've more than made their money, time to hand over the mouse.

     

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  15.  
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    Spike, Apr 21st, 2007 @ 4:08pm

    Michael Eisners Thoughts

    Who cares about Michel Eisner"s thoughts or comments on ANYTHING. The man is as complete failure in every way, and certainly not an American. Why Disney didn't get their board of directors together and fire him, I simply cannot understand.

     

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  16.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 4th, 2008 @ 1:01am

    Regarding kicking Eisner when he's down ... every kick is a good kick.

     

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