ABC/Disney Memo Shows That Ripping Off Other TV Programs Is Ok... For ABC/Disney

from the next-ride-at-disneyland:-the-double-standard dept

Of course, we all know that in the long history of Disney, the company has made much of its money by taking the content of others and repurposing it in cute animated stories. Yet, when it comes to anyone else doing things with Disney's stories or characters, its lawyers are rather vicious in response. In fact, it's Disney's heavy handed lobbying that has helped extend copyright to ever longer terms, just to avoid Mickey Mouse from entering the public domain. Thus, it probably shouldn't come as a surprise, that Disney continues with this double standard in other parts of its business. Reader Comboman sent in the news that a leaked memo from Disney subsidiary ABC suggests that producers look for TV ideas from foreign shows, where the idea can be used without having to pay a license:
"As I'm sure you're all aware, foreign formats have increased in popularity as the basis for US television development and production. What is often overlooked, or not fully appreciated, are the complexities associated with negotiating format deals, coupled with the fact that often-times what is appealing in the format may be nothing more than a general underlying premise, which, in and of itself, may be no reason to license the underlying property."
In other words, let's see what we can copy. And, yet, if anyone were to do that with a Disney/ABC property, you can bet that the lawyers would be all over it before you could get very far. But, of course, don't be surprised. It's simply the way Disney/ABC does business: abusing intellectual property laws is perfectly fine when done for its own purposes -- but is the destroyer of everything good when done to Disney/ABC.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    Brian, Aug 19th, 2008 @ 11:17am

    Huh?

    I'm not sure how you came to that translation from that portion of the memo. Basically it's saying, the general format of a show is not something which needs to be liscensed. This has always been the case. ABC's "Wife Swap" inspired FOX's "Trading Spouses" - even though "Trading Spouses" aired first, "Wife Swap", which ABC did liscense from a UK company, was in concept long before. There are plenty of other examples where two shows basically share the same premise.

    And aren't you the site that, just a couple weeks ago, argued Scrabble was wrong in suing Scrabulous? Scrabulous pretty obviously stole Scrabble's format. Apparently that's OK, but using the same format as a TV show is not?

     

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  2.  
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    Cameron, Aug 19th, 2008 @ 11:29am

    RE:Huh?

    There's nothing wrong with borrowing the idea or underlying premise in this case.
    The problem is who is doing it and how they support a double standard as they would most likely sue in to the ground if someone borrowed from them.

     

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  3.  
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    OneDiscisple, Aug 19th, 2008 @ 11:34am

    Re: Huh?

    Brian,
    I think you are missing the point, he is not commenting on the practice of using other people's ideas to create new content, but rather the unethical double standard being used by one of copyright biggest supporters. Disney says that everyone should pay them for even thinking "Mickey Mouse" but has no problems use other hard work for free.

     

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  4.  
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    Brian, Aug 19th, 2008 @ 11:48am

    But Mickey Mouse is a specific character, not a concept or a format. If someone took the idea of animating a small rodent, that would be copying the format - and that does happen all the time, without incident or legal action. But it someone took Mickey Mouse the character, and made their own cartoon or video game based on that character, of course they would get sued, and rightfully so. I think the original post is confusing a specific instance of intellectual property with a general idea or format, when the two are very different things.

     

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  5.  
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    kip, Aug 19th, 2008 @ 11:58am

    "Disney's heavy handed lobbying that has helped extend copyright to ever longer terms, just to avoid Mickey Mouse from entering the public domain"

    Isn't this a myth? I believe Disney still owns Mickey Mouse, as long as they keep producing new content, regardless of how long he has been around. Sorry I don't have time to cite a source but I'm fairly certain that the statement here is frequently repeated but false (or at least disingenuous).

     

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  6.  
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    Beefcake, Aug 19th, 2008 @ 12:10pm

    Re:

    kip, you are confusing copyright with trademark. Copyright ends (at least it used to, which is the point of the post), trademark is permanent provided it's maintained. Disney can protect the mouse-ears logo for as long as they want (trademark), but we should all be able to publish cartoons featuring the Mickey Mouse (copyright) character by now, just like Disney did with Cinderella, Snow White, etc.

     

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  7.  
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    Mike (profile), Aug 19th, 2008 @ 12:16pm

    Re: Huh?

    And aren't you the site that, just a couple weeks ago, argued Scrabble was wrong in suing Scrabulous? Scrabulous pretty obviously stole Scrabble's format. Apparently that's OK, but using the same format as a TV show is not?

    The issue isn't with the action -- I agree that you should be able to make your own TV, building off the format of others. The issue is with the hypocrisy of Disney acting one way when its content is concerned, and another way for others' content.

     

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  8.  
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    oldhick, Aug 19th, 2008 @ 12:25pm

    Re: Huh?

    I think the point is to avoid litigation...

     

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  9.  
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    hegemon13, Aug 19th, 2008 @ 12:31pm

    Non-point

    I have to agree that this article really makes no point. There are plenty of movies that copy the premise of Disney movies. Ever walked through the children's video section at a drug store? It's full of low-quality animated movies that are direct rip-offs of successful Disney movies (such as "The Lion Emperor"). The cover art is even very similar, but just different enough to keep them out of hot water. They have clearly stolen the premise, and even simulated the cover art of Disney movies. Yet, they continue to sell them without getting sued.

    I agree that Disney's draconian copyright philosophies and constant demand for extension of copyright are stupid and wrong. However, I don't see a parallel here.

     

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  10.  
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    6fingeredjake, Aug 19th, 2008 @ 12:32pm

    Re:

    "But Mickey Mouse is a specific character, not a concept or a format. If someone took the idea of animating a small rodent, that would be copying the format - and that does happen all the time, without incident or legal action. But it someone took Mickey Mouse the character, and made their own cartoon or video game based on that character, of course they would get sued, and rightfully so. I think the original post is confusing a specific instance of intellectual property with a general idea or format, when the two are very different things."

    ---------------------------------------------------------

    Brian, I understand your point about specific characters, but I remember an instance in the late 70's early 80's when Disney forced Marvel to put pants on Howard the Duck because they contended he looked too much like Donald Duck withouth the pants. That is a small example, but illustrates that Disney is not above going after people for using characters based on animals that their "icons" are based on.

    PS - for anyone interested in reading a fascinating story about another famous Disney copyright battle, check out:
    "The Pirates and the Mouse: Disney's War Against the Counterculture" by Bob Levin.

     

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  11.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 19th, 2008 @ 12:34pm

    Re: Re: Huh?

    So if ABC did not sue Fox over Trading Spouses (a much more apples-to-apples comparison than a cartoon character's likeness) where is the hypocrisy?

     

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  12.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 19th, 2008 @ 12:34pm

    Re: Huh?

    did someone get Walt out of cryogenics?


    We all know that television and the movie business are incapable of producing new ideas. They have large well funded systems in place precisely to prevent new ideas from getting made (they are simply too risky). So thats why we get remakes of Alvin and the Chimpmonks and four knock-offs of whatever last years successful reality show was.

    The point of the OP is simply about hypocracy, which is pretty obvious here. I dont know that ABC or Disney is any more guilty then any other big player . . . but they are certainly guilty.

     

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  13.  
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    6fingeredjake, Aug 19th, 2008 @ 12:38pm

    Re: Non-point

    If the company that produced "The Lion Emporer" was, let's say, Time Warner and they were turning a profit, do you honestly believe Disney would not take legal action?

    Because what the memo seems to indicate is that Disney is willing to take a successful show overseas and emulate here in the US without paying a lincensing fee, something that if done by a large oversees entertainment corporation, to one of Disney's properties would incur stiff legal repercussions.

     

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  14.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 19th, 2008 @ 12:46pm

    One really should read the referenced memo before opining to the effect that Disney is out to rip off others. It can be found at:

    http://www.deadlinehollywooddaily.com/bombshell-abc-studios-memo-a-blueprint-to-rip-off-forei gn-tv-series/

    The writer makes a very valid and important point. Licensing negotiations can at times be very complex, and one should never automatically initiate negotiations without first asking if they are even necessary.

     

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  15.  
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    Blaise Alleyne (profile), Aug 19th, 2008 @ 1:03pm

    Re:

    Disney isn't out to rip off others, that's not what's being suggested. Disney is happy to avoid complex licensing when it's the one that has to get a license, but when the tables are turned, Disney is not so worried about complex licensing.

    I mean, lobbying for the retroactive extension of copyright and preventing any works from entering into the public domain for a couple decades... that's hardly improving the complex licensing situation for anyone, when works that were supposed to enter the public domain (and therefore not need to be licensed anymore) are held back.

    It's not that it's bad that Disney builds off the ideas of others. It's just a shame that they don't seem to think others should be able to do the same.

    Licensing negotiations can definitely be very complex. It's a good thing Disney didn't have to deal with them when they were starting out. Yet, they're one of the biggest supporters of making these negotiations more common for the rest of us.

    That's the double standard.

     

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  16.  
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    Killer_Tofu (profile), Aug 19th, 2008 @ 1:10pm

    Re:

    Perhaps the same could be said for you reading the OP.
    The idea here is that, if it were reversed, you could bet a watermelon that Disney would have the lawyers after you the instant you started. Just because, they believe that it is always necessary, unless they are doing it, then they can check it out.

    BTW Mike, the dept for this post is hilarious!

     

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  17.  
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    Jason Huebel, Aug 19th, 2008 @ 1:26pm

    Specious Argument At Best

    This is comparing apples to oranges. If a foreign show doesn't have copyright protection here in the US, then how is it hypocritical for Disney to develop a similar idea? The are working within the law, this making this argument that they are ripping off others invalid.

     

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  18.  
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    6fingeredjake, Aug 19th, 2008 @ 1:31pm

    Re: Specious Argument At Best

    I don't think anyone has claimed that Disney is ripping anyone off, just that they are engaging in behaviour that they constantly and repeatedly attempt to stamp out with their lawyers when the same tactics are used to emulate one of their properties.

    Nobody is saying that Disney is breaking any law, just that they are being hypocritical.

     

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  19.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 19th, 2008 @ 1:33pm

    Re: Re: Re: Huh?

    ...where is the hypocrisy?
    You really have to ask? Here's a start.

     

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  20.  
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    Dosquatch, Aug 19th, 2008 @ 2:35pm

    Re: Brian / specific characters

    But Mickey Mouse is a specific character, not a concept or a format.

    And? There have been Sherlock Holmes stories published by authors other than Doyle. There are perhaps hundreds of Star Trek novels written by people other than Roddenberry. Characters are fair game to be recycled after a certain point. Why should Disney and Mickey Mouse be special?

     

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  21.  
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    Peregrine, Aug 19th, 2008 @ 3:36pm

    Re: Huh?

    Scrabble was wrong to sue scrabulous not because it shouldn't defend it's copyright, it arrogantly manipulated copyright to try to steal scrabulous' users. first opted not to just license the already uber-popular knockoff instead of spending just as much to license their own, and second they let it build up popularity for Scrabble while they were still developing said game and then only used "copyright" once said game was done to try and steal scrabulous' user base. Quite a backwards and backhanded way of doing things in my opinion .

     

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  22.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 20th, 2008 @ 7:31am

    Re: Re: Huh?

    This Scrabulous thing again... I don't disagree with it. I think the creators of Scrabulous should have taken more care in designing a game that wasn't a complete knock-off, down to using "Scrab" in the name.

     

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  23.  
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    disney, May 29th, 2009 @ 12:34pm

    Re: Non-point

    The Lion King is a ripoff, look at wikipedia for an explanation.

    And the Hunchback of Notre-Dame is based on a novel by famous 19th century French author Victor Hugo, yet he was NOT credited in the american version because "Americans don't know and don't care", but they did credit him in the French version, because they knew French people would get cross if they didn't...

     

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