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
    Not an Electronic Rodent (profile), 11 Sep 2012 @ 1:53pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Do you dispute that because of the incentives created by copyright, Disney creates wonderful works that we all love?
    Yes, I dispute that... A more accurate form might be:
    Disney have re-created many classic stories that are very popular under copyright terms and it is likely that copyright played a significant part in their decision given the prevelant conditions at the time. However there is no way to know what their reasoning or product might have been had copyright not existed.

    Because that's the thing isn't it? Copyright supporters are arguing a 1 sided argument. However much shouting there is about "[x film] would never have been created without copyright" it's got to be hypothetical because there's never been an environment to test it. In the current environment, though the option exists to do without and some people do, its a far more difficult route because the playing field isn't level. Who knows what would happen if copyright simply didn't exist? Is it likely that the same films would have been created? Probably not. Is it likely other films would have been created? Likely yes. Would they have been as engaging as many people seem to find the Disney films? Absolutely no way to tell but I'd say yes.

    Modern day "blockbusters" with expensive high-tech might not exist in the same form without copyright. But is that a bad thing? I like a good whoosh-bang explosion-fest as well as the next guy but if I tried to write my top 100 fave films well over 1/2 of them would come out as middling to low budget films with engaging plots/stories and/or clever writing and characterisation and would definitely occupy most of the top slots on the list. In a hypothetical world without copyright, more films like that might have been made. Would that be better, worse or just different?

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