The Insanity Of Making A 'Wizard Of Oz' Film In Today's IP Climate

from the goodbye,-yellow-brick-road dept

It's always tough to root for the underdog when neither of the involved parties deserves that title. So, rather than pick one, we'll just discuss the overweening ridiculousness of copyright law. It's a subject that never goes out of style, thanks to our legislators' willingness to continually extend copyright protection terms.

As was covered much earlier in the year, Disney is producing its own "Wizard of Oz" movie, titled "Oz the Great and Powerful." While Frank L. Baum's books are definitely in the public domain, filmed depictions of Baum's characters are mainly the property of Warner Bros. WB attempted to head off this incursion into its domain by filing a trademark application on "The Great and Powerful Oz," but it was a week too late and is now (presumably) several billion dollars short (H'Wood mathematics, yo).

Having failed to block Disney's entry into the Oz arena, Warner has now busied itself with watching each development for any slip-up that could land it a tasty settlement -- or an injunction. To that end, Disney has placed its own legal team on the set to ensure that none of the characters or elements in the Disney film bear too much resemblance to Warner's property. The sheer amount of highly detailed micromanagement needed to avoid the rights holder's litigious wrath borders on OCD-hellish insanity.

Striving for a visage different from the one Margaret Hamilton made famous, Howard Berger, an Oscar-winning makeup artist, “was finally able to come up with a shade of green which satisfied Disney’s legal team,” SlashFilm.com reported after a visit to the set. According to Disney’s production notes Mr. Berger named his custom color Theostein — a conflation of the witch’s name before she turns wicked, and Frankenstein.
When something as minimal as a move left or right on the Pantone chart could potentially trigger some legal action, you know you've reached some sort of watershed mark in IP protection. It's highly doubtful our founding fathers had a "shade of green that satisfies a legal team" in mind when they set about trying to "promote the progress of science and the useful arts."

Nor were they particularly concerned with innovative hairdos.
About 40 dwarfs were cast in “Oz the Great and Powerful” as Munchkins... They still have weird hair, but Disney lawyers nixed at least one style as too similar to one from the original movie. It was tweaked in postproduction using computers.
True, there are many things the founding fathers couldn't possibly have considered over two hundred years ago, but what's going on here is resembles nothing more than gerrymandering Baum's legacy in order to avoid a costly turf war -- over something that should be in the public domain.

It's a rare day when you find yourself commiserating with one of the biggest IP thugs of all -- Disney. Baum's original work is now a minefield, and anyone hoping to utilize this public domain title now has to contend with a powerful legal team protecting a 74-year-old film. But, I suppose, if you're going to choose someone to walk across an IP minefield, it might as well be Disney. It makes perfect karmic sense.


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  1. icon
    silverscarcat (profile), 6 Mar 2013 @ 9:37am

    I hope Warner still finds something..

    And sues them for copyright infringement.

    This is just PERFECT!

    To everyone who thinks copyright works as it is...

    Well...

    This article is pretty much proof that it's broken.

    You don't need any other examples, just this one.

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