by Mike Masnick

Filed Under:
copyright, public domain, tpp


Disney Claims House Of Mouse Built With Copyright, Ignores Public Domain Foundation

from the support-disney,-stomp-out-the-public-domain dept

Walt Disney is a company that has regularly taken from the public domain, but which famously refuses to give back to the public domain. Many of its most famous movies were public domain stories that Disney co-opted and then locked up with copyright. Disney has also been one of the main proponents of expanding copyright at every opportunity. As many people have noted, it was a driving force behind the 1998 copyright term extension, which some have called the "Mickey Mouse Protection Act," because it kept Mickey Mouse from going into the public domain for another 20 years.
So, it seems notable (as pointed out by the EFF) that one of the "stakeholder" presentations at the latest TPP negotiations was "The Walt-Disney Company: Creativity, Brought to you by Copyright."

Of course, that leaves out that Disney was more or less founded on both copyright infringement (the true history of Mickey Mouse involves Disney copying another movie that was still under copyright) and using the public domain, not copyright. Disney's creativity wasn't brought to the world because of copyright, but often in spite of copyright. You can find the history in lots of places, but this recent blog post highlights how many of Disney's early works exist thanks to the public domain:
The Disney company had a moderate level of success with the original characters featured in early black and white short films. Disney did not really hit stride until making full length animated features. Giving credit where due, “Fantasia” was original Disney characters and story line, if you want to call it that. “Fantasia” was literally a series of short animated stories edited together to a soundtrack made up of mostly public domain music for which Disney paid no license (with the exception of “The Rite Of Spring”).

From there on, most Disney feature animations would be based on stories that had since fallen into public domain. Snow White, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and many other princess stories, were based on age old fairy tales that Disney was not required to pay license or royalties for. Later works would include children’s literature like: “Pinocchio”, “Alice in Wonderland” , “The Jungle Book” (released just one year after Kipling’s copyright expired),– All in the public domain! Disney didn’t pay a cent for story license, yet reaped many millions. The “Little Mermaid”, “Beauty and the Beast”, “Aladdin” and all features made under the reign of Michael Eisner, would be from public domain. Of course, Disney touted “The Lion King” as an original story. Not! Besides being an adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” told through a pride of lions, there are way too many similarities between The Lion King and a 1960s Japanese animated series called “Kimba the White Lion”. Though Disney claims these a coincidence, they would sue anyone else into oblivion if they came half as close to one of their properties.
It seems that perhaps someone else ought to do a presentation on "The Walt-Disney Company: Creativity, Brought to you by the Public Domain." Otherwise, we're going to see efforts like TPP seek to further kill off the public domain.

Reader Comments

The First Word

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  1. icon
    Leigh Beadon (profile), 11 Sep 2012 @ 11:19am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    The other aspect I think you have to consider is how exactly you define "expansion of the public domain", because there are two ways to look at that.

    One is simply: the number of new works that have entered the public domain. That's the sort of thing you can graph off year by year, and then we can debate whether the number is significant.

    But there's a broader and much more important way to look at it: how has the projected and promised public domain changed over time. That paints a much scarier picture. For decades, authors and other creators were happily producing works with the knowledge that they'd only get 28 years of protection and then, optionally, another 28 years -- and the majority of them (in every medium except film) didn't even bother with that option, having discovered that the work had run its commercial course within the first 28 years. Meanwhile, the public was happily paying for works, and happy with the promise that in 28/56 years they would be free.

    If you graphed the projected public domain at the time, it would be steadily growing by huge amounts, starting in 1951 and accelerating from there on. Everyone at the time was happy with that arrangement. The works got created. They got bought. They got consumed.

    Then copyright was retroactively extended, and zero emphasis was put on making copyright records available to the public. Today's actual public domain, even counting expired registrations if it were possible to count such a thing, is but a fraction of what that projection would have showed -- and today's projection won't show the growth starting until 2019. We effectively deprived every generation from the Korean War until today of countless works that were happily created with the understanding that they'd be free by now.

    So it's hard for me to look at the PD and see anything I'd call "growth", much less "significant growth". What I see is a long history of reduction, with a few things falling between the cracks.

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