Irony Alert: Disney (Yes, DISNEY!) Whines About 'Overzealous Copyright Holders'

from the mickey-mouse-is-a-hypocrite dept

Here’s one that might create a bit of a stir. The history of the 20th century and maximalist, ever expanding copyright is often associated with one particular company: Disney. I mean, the 1998 Copyright Term Extension Act (CTEA) is regularly called the “Mickey Mouse Protection Act” and Tom Bell once created this lovely Mickey Mouse Curve showing how copyright terms always seemed to expand just before the original movie starring Mickey, Steamboat Willie was about to enter the public domain:

This pattern might finally (miraculously) end this year — but not because Disney has become enlightened. Rather, it’s mainly because Disney’s lobbying influence is not what it once was, and SOPA seemed to make both Congress and the legacy entertainment industry realize that they would almost certainly lose another such fight on an issue like this (not that there weren’t attempts to slip provisions into trade agreements that had the potential to expand copyright terms).

However, it does seem notable — as first spotted by Eriq Gardner at The Hollywood Reporter — that Disney has now been put in the possibly awkward position of complaining about “overzealous copyright holders,” and talking about the importance of user rights and fair use to protect free speech and the First Amendment. No, really.

Disney, of course, owns ABC. Back in May (though the complaint appears to incorrectly state March), ABC aired a two-hour program entitled The Last Days of Michael Jackson. The Michael Jackson Estate was not pleased and sued for copyright infringement. The complaint itself is quite a read. It completely mocks the program in question:

Although titled The Last Days of Michael Jackson, the program did not focus on Michael Jackson?s last days. Rather, it was simply a mediocre look back at Michael Jackson?s life and entertainment career. A Rolling Stone review described the program as ?offer[ing] little in the way of new revelations or reporting and at times seems heavy on armchair psychoanalysis and unsupported conjecture.? The magazine was being too generous. The program contained nothing ?in the way of new revelations or reporting.?

It also digs deep on Disney’s well-known history for maximalism:

Disney?s media business depends on its intellectual property and, more specifically, the copyrights it holds in its well-known characters, motion pictures, music, and the like. Disney has never been shy about protecting its intellectual property. Indeed, its zeal to protect its own intellectual property from infringements, real or imagined, often knows no bounds.

a. Disney has threatened to sue independent childcare centers for having pictures of Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck on their walls, forcing them to remove all pictures of Mickey or Donald?and other anthropomorphized mice or ducks?rather than face ruinous litigation from one of the world?s largest corporations.

b. Disney once sued a couple on public assistance for $1 million when they appeared at children?s parties dressed as an orange tiger and a blue donkey. Apparently, these costumes cut too close to Tigger and Eeyore for Disney?s tastes.

c. Disney takes a very narrow view of copyright law?s ?fair use? doctrine. For example, just a few years ago, it sent DMCA takedown notices to Twitter, Facebook, and other websites and webhosts, when consumers posted pictures of new Star Wars toys that the consumers had legally purchased. Apparently, Disney claimed that simple amateur photographs of Star Wars characters in toy form infringed Disney?s copyrights in the characters and were not a fair use.

It’s hard to deny any of the above. And thus, the complaint, with a healthy dose of snark, notes Disney’s fairly blatant hypocrisy:

Like Disney, the lifeblood of the Estate?s business is its intellectual property. Yet for some reason, Disney decided it could just use the Estate?s most valuable intellectual property for free. Apparently, Disney?s passion for the copyright laws disappears when it doesn?t involve its own intellectual property and it sees an opportunity to profit off of someone else?s intellectual property without permission or payment.

It claims “at least thirty different copyright works” were used without permission. These included clips from songs and music videos, concert footage and the Jackson Estate’s own documentary footage. So now Disney has answered and finds itself, quite incredibly, arguing against overzealous copyright holders and about the importance of protecting the First Amendment from being harmed by excessive copyright claims. Literally.

This case is about the right of free speech under the First Amendment, the doctrine of fair use under the Copyright Act, and the ability of news organizations to use limited excerpts of copyrighted works?here, in most instances well less than 1% of the works?for the purpose of reporting on, commenting on, teaching about, and criticizing well-known public figures of interest in biographical documentaries without fear of liability from overzealous copyright holders.

I agree with everything in that paragraph. I’m just shocked that it’s Disney stating this. Disney is not the most credible defender of the First Amendment and fair use. Nor is it the most credible defendant to be yelling about overzealous copyright holders. Throughout the answer to the complaint Disney insists that its uses of the Michael Jackson works “were included in the Documentary on a transformative and fair use basis.”

Without having seen the documentary, it’s impossible to say whether or not the uses truly qualify as fair use, though the argument that they are sounds reasonable. But the idea that Disney is the one fighting for fair use and against overzealous copyright holders remains stunning and bizarre. I’d like to believe this is Disney coming to its senses and making amends for the century of harm its done thanks to copyright, but it seems much more likely that this is just an opportunistic defense of fair use, and the company remains firmly in the camp of supporting ever expanding copyrights.

I wonder how Disney would feel if someone showed up to future hearings in the case wearing an unauthorized Mickey Mouse costume?

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Companies: abc, disney, michael jackson estate

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Comments on “Irony Alert: Disney (Yes, DISNEY!) Whines About 'Overzealous Copyright Holders'”

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47 Comments
Ho Lee Samoki (user link) says:

REALLY? You think Mickey Mouse THE key cause?

Correlation is not causation. Post hoc fallacy. The premise of that graphic is invalid.

You’re just using simplistic hook for your constant, 20-year-now purpose of attacking ALL copyright. — Ever notice that you have same initials, MM? The vernacular term "Mickey Mouse" describes your efforts.

If were to bet, I’d put every cent have or could beg or borrow on longer copyright being useful to MILLIONS of holders and for countless BILLIONS of DESERVED dollars for their creations. Not just Mickey. — Who’s now NINETY and still his own mouse thanks to copyright! YAY!

Anyhoo, you then try to attack all copyright by claiming that Disney is two-faced in a lawsuit paragraph that you entirely agree with, and it’s just feeble.

Next attack on copyright, please. I’ve demolished this exceptionally feeble one as have done with ALL.


PS: shout-out to Mighty Thad The Ant-Slayer for inspiring me to add screen names and URLs, besides cut down to 50 characters. I actually like it better, just hope doesn’t screw up your "safe space scripts"(TM).

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: REALLY? You think Mickey Mouse THE key cause?

“If were to bet, I’d put every cent have or could beg or borrow on longer copyright being useful to MILLIONS of holders and for countless BILLIONS of DESERVED dollars for their creations. Not just Mickey. — Who’s now NINETY and still his own mouse thanks to copyright!”

That depends on how you define what is useful. Is it useful for corporate control and generate income to stockholders. Then yes. To promote useful science and art? Then no. Personally I am fine with long copyright but within reason. My only thought behind it is that it just has to be renewed and why it is being renewed. Give Disney its infinite copyright on Mickey Mouse since they will use it and just have them renew it every 20 years. Then any unused/abandoned works goes in the public domain instead of disappearing. My biggest example is of the recent ROM site that was taken down. A lot of games will just disappear. Another is with many of the lost original Doctor Who episodes. They only managed to recover a few because of some people making illegal copies back then.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: REALLY? You think Mickey Mouse THE key cause?

Give Disney its infinite copyright on Mickey Mouse since they will use it and just have them renew it every 20 years.

I’m a big fan of increasing renewal fees. The first 20 years are free, then an exponentially-increasing fee should make people/corporations really focus on the actual value of the copyright. Numbers are variable, but here are some starting points:

20 years – free
30 years – $1,000
40 years – $10,000
50 years – $100,000
60 years – $1,000,000

If, at 80 years old, the copyright on Mickey Mouse is worth the money, Disney can pay the billion dollars to keep him protected for the next ten years.

The fees collected can go into a fund specifically designed to "promote the progress of the arts and sciences" as was originally intended.

ryuugami says:

Re: REALLY? You think Mickey Mouse THE key cause?

If were to bet, I’d put every cent have or could beg or borrow on longer copyright being useful to MILLIONS of holders and for countless BILLIONS of DESERVED dollars for their creations. Not just Mickey. — Who’s now NINETY and still his own mouse thanks to copyright! YAY!

I’m sure you also keep paying to the sandwich shop for the next hundred years for each sandwich you bought. Unless you’re a hypocrite and a moron. Are you?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: REALLY? You think Mickey Mouse THE key cause?

Correlation is not causation.

Causation, though, is causation.

Since 1990, The Walt Disney Company had lobbied for copyright extension.[12][13] The legislation delayed the entry into the public domain of the earliest Mickey Mouse movies, leading detractors to the nickname “The Mickey Mouse Protection Act”.[4]

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: REALLY? You think Mickey Mouse THE key cause?

The copyright extensions make no sense because they extend copyright 150 YEARS after the creator’s death. Let that sink in.

150 YEARS. AFTER. DEATH!

Imagine getting claimed for "copyright infringement" from a creator/company that isn’t even around anymore. The Mouse’s ridiculous copyright laws & the DMCA both need to be abolished.

Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re:

you then try to attack all copyright by claiming that Disney is two-faced in a lawsuit paragraph that you entirely agree with

One can agree that Disney is doing the legally and possibly morally correct thing by fighting the Jackson estate while pointing out the utter hypocrisy of Disney—the mega-corp that has done more to expand copyright in favor of itself than any other corporation—trying to fight what it calls an overzealous copyright claim.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Y’all made the bed, never expecting to find yourself in it…
Ooops.

Decades of bullying the little people & finally you get to be on the receiving end of the insanity you demanded be enshrined in law.

You might win, you might think this is unfair, but for a second how about you imagine how it feels when you do it to others.

A pox on the house of mouse & the buying of laws to protect a cartoon mouse at the expense of the public.

ECA (profile) says:

Talking ducks?

Lets wonder about how many Ducks are still talking.

All of the corps HOLD their cards close to the cheat, and REMAKE and copy those cards, over and over,, They take Others, ideas and change them to suit Copyright, and bury the original story.
How many version of The Wizard of OZ have been made, under other names even.

HOW many books and stories are being HELD by family from over 50 years ago? From ‘Happy Birthday’, and “Edgar Alan Poe, and “H.P. Lovecraft” are still being fought over, By the Grand children of the Authors..WHO are still getting money for something they had NOTHING to do with.. And most of them have created nothing WORTH reading/writing/music/video…anything.

Something on the side.
How many books/stories have been BOUGHT, and never created into movies?? AND CANT BE MADE, because the industry has the RIGHTS..that may never be used..

Baron von Robber says:

“Mickey’s on the production line
I’m a super mouse in time
Everybody’s doing the goose step out in Anaheim
Mastermouse gonna feel no fear
Mickey’s gonna lead us to the new frontier
Everybody wants to be the perfect mouseketeer
And there’s stukas over Disneyland
Stukas over Disneyland
Stukas over Disneyland
Stukas over Disneyland”

Ninja (profile) says:

“I’m just shocked that it’s Disney stating this.”

It’s becoming more frequent. I’ve already taken a look outside to make sure that doomsday meteor isn’t coming.

Ahem. Jokes apart, I guess it’s inevitable. There’s only so much you can produce without relying on previous work to build upon and the Public Domain is sorely deprived of new stuff for several decades now. Disney had a whole nice pool of Public Domain material to work. Now that they overexplored it and are in need of material to further create they are hitting face first into the wall they created themselves. Sweet irony.

That One Guy (profile) says:

The law is meant for OUR use, not to be used AGAINST us!

I agree with everything in that paragraph. I’m just shocked that it’s Disney stating this.

You shouldn’t be, it’s entirely to be expected if you assume, as they pretty clearly have, that the law is meant to serve them.

When they go after others for fair use then it’s acceptable because they’re trying to ‘protect’ their stuff. Here someone is trying to go after them so of course they’ll break out fair use to try to defend their actions, it’s an attempt to ‘protect’ their stuff.

Grossly hypocritical in general of course, but still entirely consistent with the idea that the law they bought is for their use.

Now it would be nice if I thought for one second that having made the argument in favor of fair use they’d be a little less rabid going after others for it, yet as I don’t believe they are that honest I can only hope that they win the case but in a way that it costs them significant money, provides material for anyone they try to go after to use as a defense, or ideally both.

Does It Matter? says:

Microsfot once called me litigious in a copyright lawsuit, tried to say my copyrights weren’t “legitimate,” and countersued to try to get attorney fees.

In response, I listed the 272 active cases they had on the federal docket. They wound up settling but I think if they hadn’t countersued, they’d have gotten dismissal pretty easily. To date, it’s the only time a ruling has ever gone against a search engine in a copyright case in this country, but the ruling only allowed for a victory of maybe $750 and was worded so as not to make a precedent ouf of it so there was no point in pursuing it.

Wyrm (profile) says:

Potential win-win case for the public?

  • If they win, any other lawyer can just use this case (and maybe add to the irony by quoting their arguments verbatim, including the outrage section mentioning "zealous copyright holders") to defend against them.
  • If they lose, others could file their own lawsuit every time Disney "borrows" from them until they finally decide to lobby against copyright maximalism. As Ninja commented earlier, there is only so much they can still borrow from the public domain given the effect of their own lobbying against it.
Anonymous Coward says:

Disney is also responsible for the DMCA

You know what’s more ironic? The very same year the 1998 Mickey Mouse Protection Act was passed, the DMCA was passed by congress, which takes away control from creators & gives power to corporations. Bill Clinton even signed it into affect!

So, not only is Disney is responsible for screwing up the public domain, extending copyright extensions to near 150 YEARS after a creator’s death, but they are also responsible for all the current copyright issues, including false copyright claims, which not only limit free speech, invade privacy, but also stifle creativity & violate Fair Use laws. Hell, it wouldn’t surprise me if they were responsible for the creation of the DMCA.

We are experiencing corporate tyranny because of the Mouse & these broken copyright laws.

The Mouse needs to die & DMCA needs to be abolish. All copyright laws needs to be reversed back to their original state because today, you can get a "copyright claim" simply for saying a company’s name. I kid you not. Just go onto YouTube & search "copyright rant" & you will know just how broken the current system is.

It’s time to take down Disney

Anonymous Coward says:

You can’t even make a parody off of Disney-related works without them threatening to sue you. That’s how messed up these copyright laws are.

Another example: Air Pirates controversy.

I won’t go into too much detail, but basically a guy was sued by Disney for making an adult parody of Mickey. I have provided links that go into more detail.

Disney has always been picking on the little guys as far back as the 70s. And I for one welcome their demise.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ni-9pDDNYA0
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Air_Pirates
https://getd.libs.uga.edu/pdfs/chua_terence_s_200505_ma.pdf

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