Irony Alert: Disney (Yes, DISNEY!) Whines About 'Overzealous Copyright Holders'

from the mickey-mouse-is-a-hypocrite dept

Here's one that might create a bit of a stir. The history of the 20th century and maximalist, ever expanding copyright is often associated with one particular company: Disney. I mean, the 1998 Copyright Term Extension Act (CTEA) is regularly called the "Mickey Mouse Protection Act" and Tom Bell once created this lovely Mickey Mouse Curve showing how copyright terms always seemed to expand just before the original movie starring Mickey, Steamboat Willie was about to enter the public domain:

This pattern might finally (miraculously) end this year -- but not because Disney has become enlightened. Rather, it's mainly because Disney's lobbying influence is not what it once was, and SOPA seemed to make both Congress and the legacy entertainment industry realize that they would almost certainly lose another such fight on an issue like this (not that there weren't attempts to slip provisions into trade agreements that had the potential to expand copyright terms).

However, it does seem notable -- as first spotted by Eriq Gardner at The Hollywood Reporter -- that Disney has now been put in the possibly awkward position of complaining about "overzealous copyright holders," and talking about the importance of user rights and fair use to protect free speech and the First Amendment. No, really.

Disney, of course, owns ABC. Back in May (though the complaint appears to incorrectly state March), ABC aired a two-hour program entitled The Last Days of Michael Jackson. The Michael Jackson Estate was not pleased and sued for copyright infringement. The complaint itself is quite a read. It completely mocks the program in question:

Although titled The Last Days of Michael Jackson, the program did not focus on Michael Jackson’s last days. Rather, it was simply a mediocre look back at Michael Jackson’s life and entertainment career. A Rolling Stone review described the program as “offer[ing] little in the way of new revelations or reporting and at times seems heavy on armchair psychoanalysis and unsupported conjecture.” The magazine was being too generous. The program contained nothing “in the way of new revelations or reporting.”

It also digs deep on Disney's well-known history for maximalism:

Disney’s media business depends on its intellectual property and, more specifically, the copyrights it holds in its well-known characters, motion pictures, music, and the like. Disney has never been shy about protecting its intellectual property. Indeed, its zeal to protect its own intellectual property from infringements, real or imagined, often knows no bounds.

a. Disney has threatened to sue independent childcare centers for having pictures of Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck on their walls, forcing them to remove all pictures of Mickey or Donald—and other anthropomorphized mice or ducks—rather than face ruinous litigation from one of the world’s largest corporations.

b. Disney once sued a couple on public assistance for $1 million when they appeared at children’s parties dressed as an orange tiger and a blue donkey. Apparently, these costumes cut too close to Tigger and Eeyore for Disney’s tastes.

c. Disney takes a very narrow view of copyright law’s “fair use” doctrine. For example, just a few years ago, it sent DMCA takedown notices to Twitter, Facebook, and other websites and webhosts, when consumers posted pictures of new Star Wars toys that the consumers had legally purchased. Apparently, Disney claimed that simple amateur photographs of Star Wars characters in toy form infringed Disney’s copyrights in the characters and were not a fair use.

It's hard to deny any of the above. And thus, the complaint, with a healthy dose of snark, notes Disney's fairly blatant hypocrisy:

Like Disney, the lifeblood of the Estate’s business is its intellectual property. Yet for some reason, Disney decided it could just use the Estate’s most valuable intellectual property for free. Apparently, Disney’s passion for the copyright laws disappears when it doesn’t involve its own intellectual property and it sees an opportunity to profit off of someone else’s intellectual property without permission or payment.

It claims "at least thirty different copyright works" were used without permission. These included clips from songs and music videos, concert footage and the Jackson Estate's own documentary footage. So now Disney has answered and finds itself, quite incredibly, arguing against overzealous copyright holders and about the importance of protecting the First Amendment from being harmed by excessive copyright claims. Literally.

This case is about the right of free speech under the First Amendment, the doctrine of fair use under the Copyright Act, and the ability of news organizations to use limited excerpts of copyrighted works—here, in most instances well less than 1% of the works—for the purpose of reporting on, commenting on, teaching about, and criticizing well-known public figures of interest in biographical documentaries without fear of liability from overzealous copyright holders.

I agree with everything in that paragraph. I'm just shocked that it's Disney stating this. Disney is not the most credible defender of the First Amendment and fair use. Nor is it the most credible defendant to be yelling about overzealous copyright holders. Throughout the answer to the complaint Disney insists that its uses of the Michael Jackson works "were included in the Documentary on a transformative and fair use basis."

Without having seen the documentary, it's impossible to say whether or not the uses truly qualify as fair use, though the argument that they are sounds reasonable. But the idea that Disney is the one fighting for fair use and against overzealous copyright holders remains stunning and bizarre. I'd like to believe this is Disney coming to its senses and making amends for the century of harm its done thanks to copyright, but it seems much more likely that this is just an opportunistic defense of fair use, and the company remains firmly in the camp of supporting ever expanding copyrights.

I wonder how Disney would feel if someone showed up to future hearings in the case wearing an unauthorized Mickey Mouse costume?


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 15 Aug 2018 @ 10:52am

    Do what I say and not as I do <mickyMouseLaugh.wav>

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 15 Aug 2018 @ 10:57am

    : I'm shocked! Shocked to find that copyright infringement is going on in here!

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

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Ho Lee Samoki, 15 Aug 2018 @ 11:06am

    REALLY? You think Mickey Mouse THE key cause?

    Correlation is not causation. Post hoc fallacy. The premise of that graphic is invalid.

    You're just using simplistic hook for your constant, 20-year-now purpose of attacking ALL copyright. -- Ever notice that you have same initials, MM? The vernacular term "Mickey Mouse" describes your efforts.

    If were to bet, I'd put every cent have or could beg or borrow on longer copyright being useful to MILLIONS of holders and for countless BILLIONS of DESERVED dollars for their creations. Not just Mickey. -- Who's now NINETY and still his own mouse thanks to copyright! YAY!

    Anyhoo, you then try to attack all copyright by claiming that Disney is two-faced in a lawsuit paragraph that you entirely agree with, and it's just feeble.

    Next attack on copyright, please. I've demolished this exceptionally feeble one as have done with ALL.


    PS: shout-out to Mighty Thad The Ant-Slayer for inspiring me to add screen names and URLs, besides cut down to 50 characters. I actually like it better, just hope doesn't screw up your "safe space scripts"(TM).

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 15 Aug 2018 @ 11:16am

      Re: REALLY? You think Mickey Mouse THE key cause?

      Such a flippant dismissal does not equate to "demolished".
      Certainly you can find at least one credible item with which to argue for your pov.

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

    • identicon
      Wilbert E. Clark III, 15 Aug 2018 @ 11:24am

      Re: REALLY? You think Mickey Mouse THE key cause?

      I am so smart. "S" "M" "R" "Tee"

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 15 Aug 2018 @ 11:28am

      Re: REALLY? You think Mickey Mouse THE key cause?

      "If were to bet, I'd put every cent have or could beg or borrow on longer copyright being useful to MILLIONS of holders and for countless BILLIONS of DESERVED dollars for their creations. Not just Mickey. -- Who's now NINETY and still his own mouse thanks to copyright!"

      That depends on how you define what is useful. Is it useful for corporate control and generate income to stockholders. Then yes. To promote useful science and art? Then no. Personally I am fine with long copyright but within reason. My only thought behind it is that it just has to be renewed and why it is being renewed. Give Disney its infinite copyright on Mickey Mouse since they will use it and just have them renew it every 20 years. Then any unused/abandoned works goes in the public domain instead of disappearing. My biggest example is of the recent ROM site that was taken down. A lot of games will just disappear. Another is with many of the lost original Doctor Who episodes. They only managed to recover a few because of some people making illegal copies back then.

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

      • icon
        orbitalinsertion (profile), 15 Aug 2018 @ 1:40pm

        Re: Re: REALLY? You think Mickey Mouse THE key cause?

        They only managed to recover a few because of some people making illegal copies back then.

        Extreme time-shifting.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 20 Aug 2018 @ 12:33pm

        Re: Re: REALLY? You think Mickey Mouse THE key cause?

        Give Disney its infinite copyright on Mickey Mouse since they will use it and just have them renew it every 20 years.

        I'm a big fan of increasing renewal fees. The first 20 years are free, then an exponentially-increasing fee should make people/corporations really focus on the actual value of the copyright. Numbers are variable, but here are some starting points:

        20 years - free 30 years - $1,000 40 years - $10,000 50 years - $100,000 60 years - $1,000,000

        If, at 80 years old, the copyright on Mickey Mouse is worth the money, Disney can pay the billion dollars to keep him protected for the next ten years.

        The fees collected can go into a fund specifically designed to "promote the progress of the arts and sciences" as was originally intended.

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

    • identicon
      ryuugami, 15 Aug 2018 @ 11:36am

      Re: REALLY? You think Mickey Mouse THE key cause?

      If were to bet, I'd put every cent have or could beg or borrow on longer copyright being useful to MILLIONS of holders and for countless BILLIONS of DESERVED dollars for their creations. Not just Mickey. -- Who's now NINETY and still his own mouse thanks to copyright! YAY!

      I'm sure you also keep paying to the sandwich shop for the next hundred years for each sandwich you bought. Unless you're a hypocrite and a moron. Are you?

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

      • icon
        orbitalinsertion (profile), 15 Aug 2018 @ 1:43pm

        Re: Re: REALLY? You think Mickey Mouse THE key cause?

        Mickey Mouse is apparently an artistic creator now. Who knew. I don't see him getting the money, though. I don't think his, uh, ghost writer Walt Disney is, either. Wait, who is the poor suffering party due their rightful compensation?

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 15 Aug 2018 @ 11:37am

      Re: REALLY? You think Mickey Mouse THE key cause?

      Correlation is not causation.

      Causation, though, is causation.

      Since 1990, The Walt Disney Company had lobbied for copyright extension.[12][13] The legislation delayed the entry into the public domain of the earliest Mickey Mouse movies, leading detractors to the nickname "The Mickey Mouse Protection Act".[4]

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

    • icon
      Ninja (profile), 15 Aug 2018 @ 11:48am

      Re: REALLY? You think Mickey Mouse THE key cause?

      Fuk Yu would like to have a chat with you about bigotry and psychiatric care.

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

    • icon
      Stephen T. Stone (profile), 15 Aug 2018 @ 12:25pm

      you then try to attack all copyright by claiming that Disney is two-faced in a lawsuit paragraph that you entirely agree with

      One can agree that Disney is doing the legally and possibly morally correct thing by fighting the Jackson estate while pointing out the utter hypocrisy of Disney—the mega-corp that has done more to expand copyright in favor of itself than any other corporation—trying to fight what it calls an overzealous copyright claim.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 15 Aug 2018 @ 1:11pm

      And that’s why you’re a broke ass bitch...

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

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 15 Aug 2018 @ 11:08am

    Y'all made the bed, never expecting to find yourself in it...
    Ooops.

    Decades of bullying the little people & finally you get to be on the receiving end of the insanity you demanded be enshrined in law.

    You might win, you might think this is unfair, but for a second how about you imagine how it feels when you do it to others.

    A pox on the house of mouse & the buying of laws to protect a cartoon mouse at the expense of the public.

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

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 15 Aug 2018 @ 11:26am

    Talking ducks?

    Lets wonder about how many Ducks are still talking.

    All of the corps HOLD their cards close to the cheat, and REMAKE and copy those cards, over and over,, They take Others, ideas and change them to suit Copyright, and bury the original story.
    How many version of The Wizard of OZ have been made, under other names even.

    HOW many books and stories are being HELD by family from over 50 years ago? From 'Happy Birthday', and "Edgar Alan Poe, and "H.P. Lovecraft" are still being fought over, By the Grand children of the Authors..WHO are still getting money for something they had NOTHING to do with.. And most of them have created nothing WORTH reading/writing/music/video...anything.

    Something on the side.
    How many books/stories have been BOUGHT, and never created into movies?? AND CANT BE MADE, because the industry has the RIGHTS..that may never be used..

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

  • identicon
    Baron von Robber, 15 Aug 2018 @ 11:30am

    "Mickey's on the production line
    I'm a super mouse in time
    Everybody's doing the goose step out in Anaheim
    Mastermouse gonna feel no fear
    Mickey's gonna lead us to the new frontier
    Everybody wants to be the perfect mouseketeer
    And there's stukas over Disneyland
    Stukas over Disneyland
    Stukas over Disneyland
    Stukas over Disneyland"

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 15 Aug 2018 @ 11:50am

    no mystery here. disney salutes the motto of our generation: it's ok if i do it.

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

  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 15 Aug 2018 @ 11:52am

    "I'm just shocked that it's Disney stating this."

    It's becoming more frequent. I've already taken a look outside to make sure that doomsday meteor isn't coming.

    Ahem. Jokes apart, I guess it's inevitable. There's only so much you can produce without relying on previous work to build upon and the Public Domain is sorely deprived of new stuff for several decades now. Disney had a whole nice pool of Public Domain material to work. Now that they overexplored it and are in need of material to further create they are hitting face first into the wall they created themselves. Sweet irony.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 15 Aug 2018 @ 12:10pm

    Steamboat Willie

    Could you make eleven documentaries about Steamboat Willie, looking at a different aspect of the cartoon, each using less than 10% of the original? Combined, you have the entire cartoon.

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

    • identicon
      kog999, 16 Aug 2018 @ 10:40am

      Re: Steamboat Willie

      perhaps, then after that then you could make a documentary about the 11 documentaries which shows less then 10% of each of those documentary. that 10% just happens to correspond to the parts showing steamboat willy.

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

  • identicon
    I. Ⓡⓞⓝ EE™, 15 Aug 2018 @ 3:12pm

    Pot - meet Kettle.

    ⬤ ⬤
    _⬤_

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

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 15 Aug 2018 @ 7:55pm

    The law is meant for OUR use, not to be used AGAINST us!

    I agree with everything in that paragraph. I'm just shocked that it's Disney stating this.

    You shouldn't be, it's entirely to be expected if you assume, as they pretty clearly have, that the law is meant to serve them.

    When they go after others for fair use then it's acceptable because they're trying to 'protect' their stuff. Here someone is trying to go after them so of course they'll break out fair use to try to defend their actions, it's an attempt to 'protect' their stuff.

    Grossly hypocritical in general of course, but still entirely consistent with the idea that the law they bought is for their use.

    Now it would be nice if I thought for one second that having made the argument in favor of fair use they'd be a little less rabid going after others for it, yet as I don't believe they are that honest I can only hope that they win the case but in a way that it costs them significant money, provides material for anyone they try to go after to use as a defense, or ideally both.

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

    • icon
      Federico (profile), 16 Aug 2018 @ 12:55am

      Re: The law is meant for OUR use, not to be used AGAINST us!

      It's truly shameful that Congress has not been diligent enough to spell it out clearly that copyright exists solely to increase shareholder value. Someone might now get the unamerican and communist impression that they're entitled to redistribution of profits to actual humans.

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

  • identicon
    Rico R, 15 Aug 2018 @ 7:59pm

    Loss Aversion 101

    Disney seems to think copyright law is so magical, fair use is a legal right that only applies when Disney is the one asserting it!

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

    • identicon
      Sigh, 23 Aug 2018 @ 6:55pm

      Re: Loss Aversion 101

      Let's face it, Congress should revoke disney's corporate charter (note the lowercase D in light of their blatant hypocrisy). The sooner Walt Disney the artificial copyrighted trademarked megacorporation goes the way of Walt Disney the person (who croaked in 1966) the better!

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 15 Aug 2018 @ 8:15pm

    Devil's Dictionary:

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 15 Aug 2018 @ 8:15pm

    Devil's Dictionary: Overzealous

    Any law affecting me instead of someone else.

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

  • icon
    Mononymous Tim (profile), 15 Aug 2018 @ 8:28pm

    Right back atcha Disney! Now suck it up!

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

  • icon
    Federico (profile), 16 Aug 2018 @ 12:51am

    Win win for Disney

    Is there any way Disney can actually lose in this case? If the copyright holder's case is asserted, Disney can use its vast rights inventory even more aggressively. If fair use is asserted, Disney can use its vast TV and broadcasting networks to exploit other people's works without shame.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 17 Aug 2018 @ 7:24am

      Re: Win win for Disney

      If the copyright holder's case is asserted, then Disney will have their own words used against them the next time they try to get the mouse's copyright re-re-re-re-extended.

      If fair use is asserted, then any user of Disney's work has Disney's own words to fall back on in court.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Aug 2018 @ 1:01am

    Anyone surprised to see out_of_the_blue - sorry, I mean Ho Lee Samoki - suck Disney's cock? Anyone?

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Aug 2018 @ 7:35am

    Disney coming to its senses

    This might happen after they pay, and pay a lot they should.

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

  • identicon
    Does It Matter?, 16 Aug 2018 @ 11:30am

    Microsfot once called me litigious in a copyright lawsuit, tried to say my copyrights weren't "legitimate," and countersued to try to get attorney fees.

    In response, I listed the 272 active cases they had on the federal docket. They wound up settling but I think if they hadn't countersued, they'd have gotten dismissal pretty easily. To date, it's the only time a ruling has ever gone against a search engine in a copyright case in this country, but the ruling only allowed for a victory of maybe $750 and was worded so as not to make a precedent ouf of it so there was no point in pursuing it.

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

  • icon
    Wyrm (profile), 17 Aug 2018 @ 11:44am

    Potential win-win case for the public?

    • If they win, any other lawyer can just use this case (and maybe add to the irony by quoting their arguments verbatim, including the outrage section mentioning "zealous copyright holders") to defend against them.
    • If they lose, others could file their own lawsuit every time Disney "borrows" from them until they finally decide to lobby against copyright maximalism. As Ninja commented earlier, there is only so much they can still borrow from the public domain given the effect of their own lobbying against it.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Aug 2018 @ 2:40pm

    Poor Disney!

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

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    سئو سایت اصفهان, 19 Aug 2018 @ 4:36am

    Anyone?

    I mean Ho Lee Samoki - suck Disney's cock? Anyone?

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


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