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.

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Comments on “Opera About Walt Disney Refused Permission To Use Disney Images”

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Rikuo (profile) says:

Re: 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.

Yakko Warner (profile) says:


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.

Not That Chris (profile) says:

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?

Anonymous Coward says:

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.

Ninja (profile) says:

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?

Charles Kenny (profile) says:

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-73722.html

Anonymous Coward says:

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.

Tex Arcana (profile) says:

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.

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