Opera About Walt Disney Refused Permission To Use Disney Images

from the don't-do-as-you-would-be-done-by dept

Techdirt has noted before the hypocrisy of Disney in refusing to allow others to draw on its creativity in the same way that it has drawn on the art and ideas of the past. Here's another example, but this time it's an opera that's had difficulties:

A British-designed and directed opera about Walt Disney which premieres in Spain this month before coming to London has been forced to tell the great cartoonist's story without any of the images of the characters that made him a household name. Minnie, Donald, Pluto and Goofy, not to mention Mickey Mouse himself, will not be appearing on stage with the singers.

The Perfect American, the latest work by the acclaimed composer Philip Glass, concentrates on the last years of Disney's life, when he lay dying of lung cancer while planning to have his body frozen. It portrays Disney as a megalomaniac with McCarthyite, racist and misogynist tendencies, so it is clear why the global entertainment corporation has denied rights.
Rather weirdly (sour grapes?), the artistic director of the English National Opera, which will perform the opera in London, says that "we would probably not have used the real Disney characters in the production even if we had been allowed to," so in practice Disney's refusal hasn't turned out to be a big problem. But there's still an interesting issue here.

As Techdirt has discussed before, the famous "Mickey Mouse Curve" shows how copyright extensions always seem to come through just as Mickey Mouse is about to enter the public domain. So it's not entirely impossible that Disney will be pushing for yet another extension fairly soon, and for more after that.

What that means in practice is that creators of works like the Philip Glass opera presenting Walt Disney in a less than totally flattering light are likely to find themselves unable to use any of the iconic Disney images beyond what is permitted by fair use. And so a crucial facet of modern culture will not be available for artists to build upon as they wish for the foreseeable future -- hardly how the copyright bargain of a time-limited government-enforced monopoly in exchange for releasing works into the public domain is supposed to work.

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and on Google+



Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    Michael, Jan 7th, 2013 @ 12:01pm

    we would probably not have used the real Disney characters in the production even if we had been allowed to because nothing says "uncomfortable" like a dying cartoonist with Mickey Mouse standing over over him laughing.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 7th, 2013 @ 12:03pm

    Why even invest time and effort in doing this if they cannot showcase his work. Seems like a waste of time and free advertising for Disney.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3.  
    icon
    Rikuo (profile), Jan 7th, 2013 @ 12:08pm

    Re:

    I don't think Disney would want this kind of "advertising"

    "It portrays Disney as a megalomaniac with McCarthyite, racist and misogynist tendencies,"

    That's the issue at hand. If I wanted to, I could write an opera decrying everything bad about William Shakespeare the person and include in it all of his famous characters...but when it comes to Walt Disney? Nope.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4.  
    icon
    Yakko Warner (profile), Jan 7th, 2013 @ 12:15pm

    "Forced"?

    I'm confused. The article says the opera was "forced" to tell the story without the official images, but then it quotes the director as saying they were never going to use the images in the first place.

    The quote makes it sound like Disney just wanted to flex its muscles and say "NOT ENDORSED BY US" when the opera didn't look for their approval in the first place.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 7th, 2013 @ 12:23pm

    best thing to do is tell Disney to shove everything up their chutney, sideways, until it gets lodged for good!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6.  
    identicon
    John Doe, Jan 7th, 2013 @ 12:52pm

    Disney is proof

    Disney is excellent proof that the public domain is important and leads to further creativity as he built on public domain story lines. At the same time, Disney is also proof of the pitfalls of copyright by holding back further creativity by not allowing works to go into the public domain.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7.  
    icon
    Not That Chris (profile), Jan 7th, 2013 @ 1:23pm

    Probably a stupid question but...

    It portrays Disney as a megalomaniac with McCarthyite, racist and misogynist tendencies

    If the play is already not portraying Disney in the greatest of lights, would it not make sense to then use pariodied, exaggerated versions of the characters in question? Leave them unnamed, so you don't have to worry about actually using the words "Mickey Mouse." It's been done before in a South Park episode.

    Or would that be too much of a risk that somebody with more money would decide to challenge parody use?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8.  
    icon
    Zakida Paul (profile), Jan 7th, 2013 @ 1:52pm

    I cannot wait for the day when Disney become so totally irrelevant that children have never even heard of them. It will happen.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9.  
    icon
    Mason Wheeler (profile), Jan 7th, 2013 @ 2:10pm

    Re:

    Are you sure? We're still telling stories to our children about influential pieces of past culture. If we're still talking about Hercules, Jason and Achilles today, why wouldn't we be telling our children about Mickey and Minnie, or Bugs and Daffy, a few millennia from now?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 7th, 2013 @ 2:46pm

    Re: Re:

    There is a difference, the stories of Hercules, Achilles and Jason have been public property which has allowed the stories to be retold. Copyright is preventing the retelling of Mickey and Minnie, or Bugs bunny and co, and so their stories are likely to fade.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11.  
    icon
    gorehound (profile), Jan 7th, 2013 @ 3:02pm

    " It portrays Disney as a megalomaniac with McCarthyite, racist and misogynist tendencies"

    Instead of using those Cartoon images just use giant drawings of McCarthy,KKK, and make sure you also put a Freezer on Stage.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 7th, 2013 @ 3:23pm

    Ever seen "March Of The Wooden Soldiers", the Laurel & Hardy version of "Babes In Toyland" made in the 1930s? There's a mouse in there that bears a VERY strong resemblance to Mickey, from his ears down to his big-button red shorts (red in the colorized version, that is). Ever hear of any lawsuits over that? No? Perhaps that's because when Walt was alive, the Disney company wasn't the litigious copyright-freak monstrosity it has become.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13.  
    identicon
    Digitari, Jan 7th, 2013 @ 3:38pm

    Re:

    That was back in the days when you "enticed" your customer, now they just sue you........

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14.  
    icon
    Ninja (profile), Jan 8th, 2013 @ 5:21am

    Everybody sees the irony in Disney preventing stuff from going into public domain but relying heavily on it to sustain its own empire and yet they STILL manage to bend the laws in their favor. Well, in an age where hypocrisy and lack of shame seem to be the norm it's not surprising anymore.

    It is clear, however, that newer generations might not be as exposed to Disney content as they would with a more open (or cheaper) environment. In the long term it's plain simple suicide.

    I a side note, I never bothered to research about Walt Disney. Is this opera piece faithful to the truth or is it just some joke?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15.  
    icon
    Charles Kenny (profile), Jan 8th, 2013 @ 5:57am

    While we're on the topic....

    Let's talk about the biography of Disney's most famous animators that they're delaying unnecessarily.

    Yup, they're refusing to grant permission to use the images associated with him because the book deviates too far from the company's official 'clean' version of his life.

    Link for the interested: http://www.cartoonbrew.com/disney/advance-praise-for-the-book-that-disney-doesnt-want-you-to-read-73 722.html

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 8th, 2013 @ 10:13am

    Simple - rename the main character 'Bolt Wisney' and exaggerate his unfashionable traits to the point where Disney would not prefer to remind the public that it's based on Walt.

    As for symbols and stuff, I'm sure some artistic person could come up with similar-but-not-too-similar-looking.. I dunno, the silhouette of a dogs head with pointy up ears instead of circle ones..

    They should be in the clear as long as Disney refuses to admit that actually, this racist and misogynistic bastard is Walt Disney, when it's clear to the public it is.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17.  
    icon
    hfbs (profile), Jan 8th, 2013 @ 10:14am

    Re:

    Forgot to log in - that one's mine ^

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 8th, 2013 @ 12:43pm

    Fairy Nuff

    Wouldn't this come under "fair use"?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19.  
    identicon
    Pseudonym, Jan 8th, 2013 @ 4:07pm

    Re: Disney is proof

    Oh, it goes way beyond not allowing works to go into the public domain. You sometimes get the impression that it's about controlling history, at least the part of history where Walt Disney and his key employees are involved.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20.  
    icon
    Tex Arcana (profile), Jan 9th, 2013 @ 9:23pm

    Re: Re:

    Well, of course... And Robot Chicken did a fine job lampooning the old bastard himself: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XIeB2Q2xmZQ&feature=youtube_gdata_player

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21.  
    icon
    Tex Arcana (profile), Jan 9th, 2013 @ 9:30pm

    Re: Fairy Nuff

    It's so "fair use" that Disney has decided that anything "fair" only means what will generate more money for Disney's bottom line.

    Like this post: two uses of the trademarked term "Disney", with a mention of their accounting and legal practices, plus a prior mention of a "history" of the Old Man himself, adds up to a fee of $727,423.22, payable immediately upon receipt of served notice of the lawsuit, fines doubling every 7 days until a maximum of $10,500,000 is reached, or infringer is relieved of a lung, kidney, 2/3rds of a liver, and half a pancreas. We'll leave the heart for a later settlement.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here
Get Techdirt’s Daily Email
Save me a cookie
  • Note: A CRLF will be replaced by a break tag (<br>), all other allowable HTML will remain intact
  • Allowed HTML Tags: <b> <i> <a> <em> <br> <strong> <blockquote> <hr> <tt>
Follow Techdirt
A word from our sponsors...
Essential Reading
Techdirt Reading List
Techdirt Insider Chat
A word from our sponsors...
Recent Stories
A word from our sponsors...

Close

Email This