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Copyright Length And The Life Of Mickey Mouse

from the exploring-the-details dept

Last week, we reported on Rep. Zoe Lofgren's statement that copyright law has become equal to the life of Mickey Mouse. Tom Bell has a couple of recent posts exploring issues related to Mickey Mouse and copyright, that seem worth exploring, given Rep. Lofgren's recognition of this fact. While he notes (as we have) that there's ample evidence to suggest that the earliest Mickey Mouse cartoons really are in the public domain, he first explores how the length of copyright has followed the age of Mickey Mouse:
James Boyle then weighs in to point out that even that chart exaggerates the true length of copyright over that period of time, as for much of the timeframe shown in the chart content creators (1) had to register to get the copyright and (2) had to regularly renew the copyright to keep it. When you look at the real length of time that works were covered by copyright, it was significantly less than the maximum, because only a small percentage of people even bothered to register copyrights in the first place, and of those that did, only a tiny fraction renewed them. Compare that to today when you get a copyright the second you create something new, and it lasts until 70 years past your death. We've gone from the true median length of copyright being zero to well over 100 years in an incredibly short period of time.

And for what purpose?

Bell notes that Disney honestly wouldn't lose that much even if there were no copyright on the early Mickey Mouse films. Yes, people would be able to do some new things with the Mickey Mouse found in Steamboat Willie (though, not the more modern Mickey Mouse), but Disney would still hold the trademark on the Mouse and could probably stop plenty of uses.

But, really, the bigger point was made by Boyle, via Twitter, where he noted that we are "the first generation to deny our own culture to ourselves and to drive the point home, he notes that no work created during your lifetime will, without conscious action by its creator, become available for you to build upon. For people who don't recognize the importance of the public domain and the nature of creativity, perhaps this seems like no big deal. But if you look back through history, you realize what an incredibly big deal it is -- and how immensely stifling this is on our culture. And then you realize this is all done under a law whose sole purpose is to "promote the progress" and you begin to wonder how this happened. It goes back beyond Mickey Mouse, certainly, but Mickey and Disney have been huge drivers of this attempt to stifle new culture, all in the name of limiting competition for itself. What a shame.
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Filed Under: copyright, james boyle, mickey mouse, tom bell
Companies: disney


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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Aug 2009 @ 1:15pm

    Re: Re: whoa, good point here

    "You know, the AC has a point here Mike: as our society is evolving, we're beginning to route ourselves around some of this mess (and other parts are getting fixed). Internet doesn't really follow copyright at all, and I'm waiting for the internet archive to just say "screw it, we're copying anything we can find"...and debating creating an archive for that purpose myself - if it exists, and it's on the net, it can be copied. (already trying to raise funding)"

    Uhm... there are laws against such things.

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