Can Someone Give Michael Eisner A History Lesson On Copyright And Patents?
from the not-that-it-would-help dept
Michael Eisner gave an interview at SXSW on Tuesday (with Mark Cuban acting as the interviewer). While he discussed a variety of things, at one point he was asked about copyright issues and he responded with a strongly pro-copyright statement:
“I have a long history, obviously, of believing in copyright. I think basically what separated this country from the rest of the world was patents and copyrights. President Lincoln introduced a lot of this, fought for (the idea that) to pay people for their intellectual work was no different than paying them for their physical work. And nobody would think twice about paying someone for their physical work.”
Eisner has been repeating this bizarre and near totally incorrect claim about Lincoln for years. In fact, in 2002 he wrote an editorial for the Financial Times with the bizarre claim that Abraham Lincoln would hate file sharing. Then, last year, in another interview he talked about how important intellectual property was in the US since the time of Lincoln. It certainly would appear that he has Lincoln on the brain when it comes to intellectual property. There are just a few problems with this, with the first one being that Lincoln had almost nothing to do with intellectual property laws in this country. While he is the only president to hold a patent, he didn’t do much with that patent, and during his administration there was no major legislative changes to either patent or copyright law. Thus, it’s not at all clear why Eisner seems to repeatedly be crediting Lincoln with setting up our modern copyright and patent law.
As we’ve been discussing, that job fell to two other former Presidents: Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, who clearly understood that copyrights and patents had both positive and negative impacts — and were worried that the negatives could outweigh the positives. Eisner, on the other hand, has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that he’s an absolutist: copyright should be ever strengthened and lengthened. It was, after all, under Eisner’s watch that Walt Disney was the driving force behind the Bono Copyright Extension Act, designed solely to protect the copyright on Mickey Mouse for even longer. Apparently, since Eisner’s history lesson on copyright and patents only goes back to Lincoln, he’s not aware of the “for a limited time” part that’s in the Constitution.
Furthermore, Eisner seems to have a total blind spot to the fact that much of Walt Disney’s success was due to its widespread use of stories and concepts from the public domain (the very public domain he doesn’t seem to want to exist any more). Even the beloved Mickey Mouse was originally a concept copied from a popular movie (which was still under copyright at the time Disney copied it). Eisner is no longer at Disney, but it’s not a stretch to suggest that a big part of Disney’s troubles, leading to his own ouster, had to do with his inability to adapt to the changing times and changing marketplace that wasn’t so reliant on artificial scarcities.
The history of intellectual property is fascinating and long, but Abraham Lincoln barely deserves a footnote in it. If Eisner wants the full story, we’re more than willing to educate him — though, since he’s such a believer in the idea that information requires property rights, I’m guessing he’d be appalled if we just gave them away. So, Mr. Eisner, if you’d like to pay for a lesson on the history of intellectual property, we’re willing to sell one to you. To entice you, we’ll even throw in an explanation for why it’s also incorrect to claim that intellectual property laws separated the US from the rest of the world (and will even show examples of how the US actively ignored IP rights for many years in order to build up certain industries, including — believe it or not — the entertainment industry).