Hell Freezing Over? Disney Realizing That Fans Celebrating 'Frozen' By Infringement May Be A Good Thing

from the and-that-day-disney's-heart-grew-one-size-bigger dept

Disney is a name that is often associated with copyright maximalism for pretty good reasons. Despite the fact that many of its early successes depended heavily on either direct infringement or making use of the public domain, the company was a very aggressive enforcer of its own copyrights. And, of course, it was also a primary lobbyist for expanding copyright protections, and extending copyright term every time Mickey Mouse approached the public domain.

However, in the past few years, it's seemed as though Disney has been a bit quieter than in the past about copyright issues, allowing some other companies to take the lead on that. And, in some cases, it seems to even be recognizing (*gasp*) that some infringement can actually be a good thing. Andrew Leonard, over at Salon, has the story of how Disney has finally joined the 21st century in realizing that having fans create derivative works around the movie Frozen, has actually been useful and free promotion for the original (and massively successful) movie.
Disney’s expertise in nurturing, co-opting and, most of all, not cracking down on the many ways fans have embraced “Frozen” online is a template for how to thrive in a digital, copy-promiscuous, consumer-empowered environment. Disney, long one of the fiercest and most powerful defenders of strict intellectual property control, has learned how to let copyright go.
The article includes a bunch of examples of people who have built up huge audiences (and even careers) themselves, almost entirely built off of Disney's works -- without Disney getting involved at all. Disney isn't asking for money and it's not shutting them down. It's just letting them do their thing, even if they're making money from doing so. Why? Because it appears that even Disney is recognizing that even when these "infringers" are making money, Disney itself likely makes even more money from it:
Disney did not respond to my queries as to where they draw the line or how they are engaging with non-authorized use of Disney characters. But there’s anecdotal evidence that the company has realized that the same people who are buying soundtracks and merchandise and DVDs are the same people who are making and sharing YouTube videos. Although Disney once viewed YouTube with alarm, the company now seems to realize that fan-created content — even in cases where that content is generating revenue that is not captured by Disney — is cross-promotional marketing that money can’t buy.
For all the times we see copyright defenders insist that anyone "making money" from someone else's work is "obviously" a problem, it's nice to see Disney understand how non-zero-sum markets work, and the fact that just because someone is making some money, it doesn't automatically mean that money is coming out of Disney's bank account.

So... within a very short time it appears we've seen both the Supreme Court officially admit that infringement can be beneficial, and Disney implicitly admit the same thing. It feels like hell may be freezing over.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    silverscarcat (profile), May 27th, 2014 @ 7:17pm

    Not buying it...

    Not one bit.

    It's Disney, one of the most money-grubbing corporations of all time, you REALLY think that the company is thinking this stuff is good? No, they're saving their lawyer money up because Mickey's about to hit the Public Domain in a few years again and they need all that money to throw at Congress to keep him protected.

    Anyone willing to bet that Disney's going to wait until they can get Copyright Extended further (again) before going after everyone with crackdowns again?

    Or maybe they're just waiting to put out the next Star Wars film and then crush everyone who likes Star Wars?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2.  
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    That One Guy (profile), May 28th, 2014 @ 3:40am

    Re: Not buying it...

    Probably not 'saving up the money', given what company we're talking about, but saving up good will for the inevitable 'We deserve to have all our copyrights retroactively extended another couple of decades' argument they will be making... that could be the reasoning.

    If they can manage to get even a slight reputation of being 'for' independent creators/remixers, then they can use that in their arguments; they're not lobbying for retroactive copyright extensions for personal reasons, it's all for those little creators that Disney is ever so fond of(because reasons), and they're just so happening to benefit as a side-effect of that.

    If however they maintain their current 'We'll take from the public as much as we want, but if you do the same to our stuff we'll come down on you like a ton of bricks' stance, that trick would be a harder sell.

    Also, after Jar-Jar, 'midiclorians'(or however it's spelled), and a 'romance' that made the cheapest soap-operas look well developed, I think fans of Star Wars are pretty used to being crushed already.

     

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  3.  
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    Ninja (profile), May 28th, 2014 @ 4:00am

    Re: Re: Not buying it...

    That. I'll stockpile for the frozen hell apocalypse when they let Mickey go into the Public Domain without pulling shady tricks and trying everything they can to extend copyright terms. Still, even small changes in the right direction are welcome ;)

     

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  4.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 28th, 2014 @ 5:26am

    "Only an act of true love, can thaw a frozen heart."

     

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  5.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 28th, 2014 @ 6:01am

    Gee...maybe, just maybe, Disney won't push for another 20 year copyright term extension in 4 years.

    Oh who am I kidding. Of course they will.

     

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  6.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 28th, 2014 @ 6:01am

    well, that hasn't taken long, has it?

     

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  7.  
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    jameshogg (profile), May 28th, 2014 @ 6:01am

    Copyright still on a fundamental level gives the holder the power to restrict derivatives, even if they choose not to use that power. That is why copyright is still to be opposed on principle.

    The thought that deviantArt could at any day be subject to a lynch mob of copyright holders and be sued out of existence should piss off any decent thinking person.

     

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  8.  
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    scotts13 (profile), May 28th, 2014 @ 6:04am

    I'm being serious here -

    Does Mickey Mouse still matter? I'm a fairly large animation buff for an old guy, but I don't hear any excitement about "a new Mickey Mouse movie" coming out; I'd thought the character and his cronies were pretty much relegated to symbolic status - "Yes, we're the guys who created this character a couple of lifetimes ago." Is it just for the logo?

     

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  9.  
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    Whatever, May 28th, 2014 @ 6:10am

    nobody argues the point

    I don't see anyone arguing the point. Some infringing has gone on since the start of time, and there has always been tolerance of it. Nobody gets too freaky on what fans do to support something, within reason.

    The real issue is that with such widespread piracy, and such widespread abuse of both copyright works and trademark images, the owners have little choice but work to keep it in check. It's often hard to tell tolerable action from intolerable profiteering, so sadly some true fan driven things get squished. You shouldn't blame the studios, they are literally trying to stop a flood with not much more than a single sandbag and King Canute as their point man. Like a one legged man at an ass kicking contest, something they are kicking the wrong ass.

    It's the same reason why most of the major movie studios and stuff aren't too aggressive about things like t-shirts and other printed material that you find coming out of China. They understand that the benefits of spreading the name are perhaps larger than the benefit of trying to stop it.

     

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  10.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 28th, 2014 @ 6:11am

    No way. It's impossible. Even if there are a few execs (out of tens of thousands) out there that know not to sue fans, companies these days have very little control over their lawyers. It's only a matter of time before they decide to rack up some more billable hours by going on a C&D spree.

     

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  11.  
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    PaulT (profile), May 28th, 2014 @ 6:31am

    Re: nobody argues the point

    You went from the actual story in the article to rambling bullshit based on lies that attacks nothing that anyone's saying in just under one paragraph. Impressive.

    Nobody here defends piracy. What's criticised is overbearing and counter-productive enforcement of copyright laws that negatively affects producers and consumers alike. Such as attacking fans who buy their content.

    "It's the same reason why most of the major movie studios and stuff aren't too aggressive about things like t-shirts and other printed material that you find coming out of China."

    Erm, that makes absolutely no logical sense. Why wouldn't you go against industrial counterfeiting that's demonstrably costing the studios money? So that they can go after the fans downloading a free copy while waiting for the release of their pre-ordered DVD?

     

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  12.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 28th, 2014 @ 7:03am

    Re: nobody argues the point

    You shouldn't blame the studios, they are literally trying to stop a flood with not much more than a single sandbag and King Canute as their point man. Like a one legged man at an ass kicking contest, something they are kicking the wrong ass.

    *sobs* How fucking dare anyone out there criticize Disney. After all it's been through *sob* Leave Disney Alone!!! *sobs*

    http://knowyourmeme.com/memes/leave-britney-alone

     

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  13.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 28th, 2014 @ 7:12am

    Re: I'm being serious here -

    You must not have kids and/or cable/sat TV.

    There is a cartoon Mickey Mouse Club House that airs regularly.

     

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  14.  
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    Whatever, May 28th, 2014 @ 7:24am

    Re: Re: nobody argues the point

    "You went from the actual story in the article to rambling bullshit based on lies that attacks nothing that anyone's saying in just under one paragraph. Impressive."

    What is your problem? I am trying to point out that there is a reason why there has been some heavy handed action in the past, mostly because there has been a huge ramp up on unapproved use that rights holders tried to fight against. Some fan sites got caught up in it.

    Crank back to the 80s and you will see that fan supported things (at the time newsletters and fan clubs) were generally tolerated and even supported. Symbiotic sort of relationship. Pushing over the line was tolerated for the benefit of both.

    The only thing that changed is all the other "marketing blessings" that the internet has brought along, from piracy to fan fiction being retailed as e-books.

    "Why wouldn't you go against industrial counterfeiting that's demonstrably costing the studios money?"

    They go against it when it lands in the US, but generally they have stopped chasing around China because it's a losing battle, and that it's not harming their price point market in those areas. So when someone slaps a Disney toon on a baby onesie that is sold in the north of China, nobody really gets excited anymore, it wasn't business they were doing anyway. Disney just charges them more when they go to Hong Kong Disney.

    " So that they can go after the fans downloading a free copy while waiting for the release of their pre-ordered DVD?"

    They don't go after fans, that is perhaps the biggest lie around. They do after freeloaders. They go after the people who are teaching the fans not to pay.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15.  
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    nasch (profile), May 28th, 2014 @ 7:33am

    Re: Not buying it...

    It's Disney, one of the most money-grubbing corporations of all time

    And this story is about them realizing another way to make more money. It's perfectly consistent.

     

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  16.  
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    nasch (profile), May 28th, 2014 @ 7:36am

    Re: nobody argues the point

    Nobody gets too freaky on what fans do to support something, within reason.

    I like how you just completely make stuff up, that's a nice debate tactic.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17.  
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    jupiterkansas (profile), May 28th, 2014 @ 7:45am

    Re: nobody argues the point

    You can try to make money by stopping the flood, or you can sell boats.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 28th, 2014 @ 7:45am

    Re: I'm being serious here -

    It's not just the logo or even films. It's the merchandise. Have you any idea of the amount of money they make on just the merchandise alone related to Mickey? The thing is the nostalgic adults (even those without kids) buy tons of Mickey merchandise every year. Those with kids introduce their kids to Mickey which in turn grow up and introduce their kids Mickey. It's the never ending cash cow that spans generation after generation. I'd say that's pretty damned relevant.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19.  
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    PaulT (profile), May 28th, 2014 @ 7:49am

    Re: Re: Re: nobody argues the point

    "Some fan sites got caught up in it."

    In what? If you're trying to say that fan sites that reused imagery from some of their favourite movies were shut down because of the attempt to block pirated copies, you're at least admitting that the tools used to combat piracy were unwieldy and counter-productive. in which case, you agree with what's been said here for years. If not, you may need to clarify.

    "Crank back to the 80s and you will see that fan supported things (at the time newsletters and fan clubs) were generally tolerated and even supported."

    You'll also see that every market, every school and every workplace had pirated VHS tapes floating around. Strangely enough, the way to make that format successful was to reduce format windows, release tapes at reasonable prices, etc. rather than running round trying to, say, block blank VHS tapes (not that they didn't try initially, of course).

    I remember a huge number of pirated copies of E.T. floating around when I was a kid and you had to wait several years for a home release. Yet, that still sold a shitload of VHS copies when it finally got an official home release. Funny how that works.

    "They go against it when it lands in the US,"

    Well, that's already a horrendously short-sighted approach. Hey, let's not actually go after the people producing and profiting from the counterfeits, let's just go after the shipments we happen to spot (and many, many of them do get through if my experience is anything to go by). Obviously, you'll stop more by going after the street vendor rather than the factory!

    Actually, perhaps this does explain the problem here. Why go after the cause of the problem when you can pretend you're making a difference by going after the most visible target?

    "They don't go after fans, that is perhaps the biggest lie around. They do after freeloaders."

    One of things you people need to get through your thick skull is that those are often the same group of people - especially if the reason they're "freeloading" is that no legal release exists. Some of the people downloading Frozen had already seen it in the cinema and just couldn't wait for the Blu Ray they pre-ordered. Some of them simply couldn't afford the initial extortionate outlay required to take a family to the cinema and had no other legal option available. Shutting them or their sources down doesn't get you more money.

    Again, that's not to defend the actions of the "pirates", but you need to learn that there are many other ways to deal with this kind of problem. Ways that don't negatively affect your customers in the process.

    Not to mention - nobody is really saying that they specifically target fans and independent creators. We're just saying that when you try using the biggest net around to catch tuna, it's your own fault when you get a load of dolphins caught in there as well. Use better tools, and address the reality of the marketplace, then people won't be complaining.

     

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  20.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 28th, 2014 @ 7:50am

    Re: Re: Re: nobody argues the point

    I got news for you. Chasing file sharers is a losing battle too.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 28th, 2014 @ 8:09am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: nobody argues the point

    The really sad thing is, these sorts of people really miss is the opportunity they have here and Disney may be starting to figure that out. Take for example what John Carmack did with id Software with the release of Quake. After modders had manipulated Doom in ways they didn't expect or authorize, instead of trying to clamp down harder to prevent the unauthorized manipulation of their next big title they went the other direction and left it wide open. They effectively got free R & D out of it and introduce many of the most popular features that were originally built by modders into the next release which made those even more popular.

    What Disney could do here is simply stand back and watch what develops and when someone makes something really good that becomes really popular, swoop in and make a good offer to the creator to further develop it for Disney. It becomes a win-win for everyone.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 28th, 2014 @ 8:12am

    Re: Didn't Disney rip this mivie off in the first place anyway?

    Not the whole movie. Just one of the trailers that didn't really have much to do with the plot of the movie either. However, they did include the trailer on the DVD and Blu-Ray release.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23.  
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    MBraedley (profile), May 28th, 2014 @ 8:34am

    The

    Now if only Nintendo fully realized and embraced this. They've relented somewhat, but full time Let's Players still won't play the games if Nintendo is going to take a cut, or worse, try and shut them down. I can understand some restrictions for LPing certain games (for instance, turning off the music in some games, which has its own licensing), but completely blocking something is denying a source of free advertising for no good reason.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 28th, 2014 @ 8:36am

    Re: Re: nobody argues the point

    I dunno, the sandbag people usually make out pretty good during floods.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 28th, 2014 @ 9:15am

    Re:

    IIRC, derivatives weren't originally restricted under copyright.

     

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  26.  
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    DannyB (profile), May 28th, 2014 @ 10:41am

    Re:

    Companies these days have very little control over their lawyers?

    Really?

    Then they should get new lawyers.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 28th, 2014 @ 11:05am

    Hey wait a minute...

    Disney is actually making money from a movie? Since when? Movies never make money. Right? If they are, then maybe Hell really has frozen over.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 28th, 2014 @ 11:25am

    Re: Re: nobody argues the point

    That's silly. Everyone knows you stop the flood by just freezing all the water.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29.  
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    BeeAitch (profile), May 28th, 2014 @ 4:40pm

    Re: Re:

    But didn't you hear about the current shortage of lawyers? /s

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  30. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
     
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 28th, 2014 @ 5:39pm

    Re: Re: Re: nobody argues the point

    "What is your problem?"

    The problem is you're a fucktard and a troll, jackass.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  31.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 28th, 2014 @ 6:11pm

    Some dates about Disney's latest movie and that song.

    From imdb.com:
    Frozen
    Release Date:27 November 2013 (USA)

    From youtube.com:
    Disney's Frozen "Let It Go" Sequence Performed by Idina Menzel.
    Published on Dec 6, 2013

    In other words, the movie musical was released right before Thanksgiving. Nine days later, before the second weekend, they put up on youtube what arguably can be called the best part of the movie.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  32.  
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    Dave (profile), May 29th, 2014 @ 2:43pm

    Another possibility

    Now that ESPN is valued at more than one-third of the entire Walt Disney Company, Disney is simply focusing fewer resources on copyright protection and more resources on simply keeping the cable bundle intact, so that they can continue to collect $70/year from people who don't care about sports but gotta have their Mad Men fix.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  33.  
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    Charles Kenny (profile), May 29th, 2014 @ 3:55pm

    Re: I'm being serious here -

    Mickey serves multiple roles within the Disney corporation.

    He's the overall mascot for the company and acts as a trademark in that regard. He acts as a salesman for a ton of merchandise.

    Lastly, he acts as the Pied Pier-esque character that attracts the kiddies to Disney's channels and properties. He's a trustworthy character because, hey, parents figure anything he's in is safe for their little ones to watch.

    That said, there is a new series of shorts being released that supposedly harken back to his roots in theatrical shorts.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  34.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 30th, 2014 @ 7:15pm

    Re: Re: I'm being serious here -

    House of Mouse isn't anything new

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  35.  
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    Pragmatic, Jun 1st, 2014 @ 1:14pm

    Re: Re: I'm being serious here -

    Trademark is a different thing and not subject to time limitations. That's why I've never understood the never-ending expansion of copyright. It's not necessary to "protect" your brand.

    However, by conflating trademark and copyright, they've created a mess that will take decades to clear up at our expense. Copyright trolling, Six Strikes... the craziness will continue for as long as there is money to be made from it.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  36.  
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    locutus (profile), Jul 2nd, 2014 @ 8:11am

    Taking a mile from an inch?

    I always cringe when I see any public writing alleging Disney's sudden newfound generosity and wallowing in the spirit of sharing amongst mankind. Just a few words of encouragement will give Der Maus a feeling that they can (and will) get away with practically anything--from unreasonable copyright claims, to (worse yet) blatant piracy of older established folkloric tales, and appropriation of such to their own corporate branding--to unrelated harassment of otherwise-creative employees, especially those sucked into the evil empire through corporate mergers and acquisitions (read: ABC and Marvel, as examples). Overall, Disney arguably represents the absolute worst ways of Capitalism, in many categories. Heaps of praise over their sudden, wondrous free-love of what was probably stolen material in the first place, is like dangling a juicy t-bone in front of a hungry alligator.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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