Join 3,497 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Free Mickey?
August 22, 2008 6:02 PM   Subscribe

His is the most vigorously defended copyright in history, the reason behind the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act. But Mickey Mouse may already be in the public domain. (Via)
posted by Astro Zombie (56 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
ohpleaseohpleaseohplease

Nuke Disney from orbit.
posted by DU at 6:10 PM on August 22, 2008 [8 favorites]


It's been said a million times, but there is no copyright battle more important than this one: Disney, a company which depended on Rogers & Hammerstein, The Brothers Grimm and so many other public domain sources all the way up to the Lion King, has vigorously defended this vigorously old copyright based on a cartoon which was itself a parody of a Buster Keaton movie. If you love a Disney movie, any Disney movie, you have the reasonable fair use regime of the 1920s - 80s to thank for it.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 6:18 PM on August 22, 2008 [2 favorites]


Mickey enjoys his freedoms on the lam.
posted by StickyCarpet at 6:27 PM on August 22, 2008


Rogers & Hammerstein

Hadn't heard about this one. What did they steal from R&H?
posted by doctor_negative at 6:30 PM on August 22, 2008


...better known in this country than anyone living or dead, real or fictional.

Except, of course, for Zen Master This.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 6:30 PM on August 22, 2008


I don't know much about copyright law, but I know that if this has any basis in reality there will be a long and (metaphorically) bloody battle ahead. Disney's pissed a lot of people off with heavy-handed legal tactics, and I'm sure those people will be more than happy to return the favor. Disney's got a legion of high-priced lawyers and everything to lose.

This'll be a hell of a thing to watch.
posted by lekvar at 6:34 PM on August 22, 2008


I enjoyed the article, but I think it would have benefited from a few turns of phrase and/or similes that had some reference to Disney's cartoon-and-fairy-tale-based business.
posted by sy at 6:35 PM on August 22, 2008 [2 favorites]


Even if the cartoons themselves fell out of copyright, Disney's strong trademarks on the characters' likenesses would effectively preclude any new works based on them. All Disney would really lose would be the small stream of revenue they get from sales of the old shorts. The copyrights on the real moneymakers, like Snow White, Pinocchio, etc, are locked up tight for the foreseeable future.
posted by jedicus at 6:52 PM on August 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


The dude in this story, Brown, really comes across as a leach trying to make bucks off of other people's work. Finding that one minute turn of phrase. If he had only put that effort into being creative himself, he might be somewhere. He certainly doesn't come across as a champion for reasonable copyright. I just don't get the sense of a sympathetic little guy taking on the mega corporation. It's more just some smarmy guy trying to cut some cash loose. Doesn't surprise me that this kind of thing comes from El Lay.
posted by Eekacat at 6:54 PM on August 22, 2008


doctor_negative: Sorry, that was a little bit of a brain fart on my part. Grimm's still stands, though.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 6:56 PM on August 22, 2008


Even if the cartoons themselves fell out of copyright, Disney's strong trademarks on the characters' likenesses would effectively preclude any new works based on them.

The article made it sound like you could, you would just have to package it in such a way that it is clear that it isn't being manufactured by Disney.
posted by Astro Zombie at 6:56 PM on August 22, 2008


“When Rabbit said, `Honey or condensed milk with your Metafilter?' he was so excited that he said, `Both,' and then, so as not to seem greedy, he added, `But don't bother about the Metafilter, please.'”

No, not Metafilter. Disney.
posted by Dumsnill at 6:59 PM on August 22, 2008


The second and third "he" referring to Winny-the-Pooh of course, not Rabbit.
posted by Dumsnill at 7:02 PM on August 22, 2008


Mickey Mouse may already be in the public domain.

In which case, a few millions dollars will be shipped to Congress, and he'll be out of the public domain again.
posted by eriko at 7:07 PM on August 22, 2008 [2 favorites]


In which case, a few millions dollars will be shipped to Congress, and he'll be out of the public domain again.

It might not even be necessary to bribe congress. I think I've mentioned it before, but all Disney would need to say is "If Mickey and Minnie become public domain, people will be able to draw them in any way they please. Whole websites will be devoted to Mickey-porn and children's dreams will be forever shattered! Do we want that?!?! Think of the children!!!!!!1111eleven!!!eleven11"

And then, boom, moral outrage over beloved cultural icons allows Disney a monopoly on their characters for the next 10,000 years.
posted by Avenger at 7:23 PM on August 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


In which case, a few millions dollars will be shipped to Congress, and he'll be out of the public domain again.

No, the argument isn't based on dates or timing. It's that Steamboat Willie was never properly copyrighted in the first place, under the laws in force at the time, which are the ones that would apply.
posted by XMLicious at 7:24 PM on August 22, 2008


Does Mickey Mouse even exist anymore? I mean, yeah, I know you can get hats and t-shirts and rhinestone-studded Mickey Mouse light-up sneakers* with matching "Magical Kingdom" lanyards, but is he even really a character outside of merchandising?

What was the last generation that actually saw him in an factual cartoon? And, less importantly, were they dying of the Spanish flu at the time?


*The rhinestones, obviously, are shaped like Mickey Mouse's head.
posted by Uppity Pigeon #2 at 7:31 PM on August 22, 2008


in an factual cartoon?
posted by tremspeed at 7:39 PM on August 22, 2008 [2 favorites]


Market researchers say his 97% recognition rate in the U.S. edges out even Santa Claus.

You have to wonder about the 3% of people that don't know these icons. What's their excuse?

And after Disney went after the Hunchback of Notre Dame, against the wishes of the Hugo estate, and made a movie out of it, they lost all sympathy from me.

This story isn't that new though.

Spend any time with copyright law and it starts to become pretty good justification for torrenting. I find the application of copyright to be criminal, and I don't have any qualms about not giving thieves my money.

It always seems fine for Disney to rip people off, but heaven forbid you try to come up with something original that might weaken one of their trademarks.

Try to open a car wash. Something no one could ever mistake for any Disney property. Now call is Mickie's. Now draw a rat as your logo, and see how fast you not only get shut down, but owe them your first born.

It happened.
posted by cjorgensen at 7:45 PM on August 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


Fuck Mickey.
You're so fine you're so fine you blow my mind, heyMickey, hey Mickey.
Fuck Mickey.
posted by R. Mutt at 7:50 PM on August 22, 2008


Uppity Pigeon #2 writes "What was the last generation that actually saw him in an factual cartoon? And, less importantly, were they dying of the Spanish flu at the time?"

Oh he's current. They keep cranking new stuff out featuring the mouse. My daughter for example has several DVDs of House of Mouse and Mickey's Clubhouse.
posted by Mitheral at 7:52 PM on August 22, 2008


Does Mickey Mouse even exist anymore?

I've heard there's a park in Orlando where you can see him walking around as big as life. He smells like a sweaty college student and he's forbidden to speak.
posted by longsleeves at 7:54 PM on August 22, 2008


I've said it before, I'll probably say it again: What a crappy political legacy.

Every time I had to explain this whole thing back when I worked for [major corporate retail copy center which makes you think of whips 'n' chains instead of paper 'n' toner], the best case scenario had the customer's eyes glazing over and their formerly frothing arguments becoming senseless drool running down their chins. Worst case scenario had old men throwing half-open bottles of correction fluid - with force - at my head. All it takes is a quick jaunt down memory lane and a fist starts shaking into the uncaring air, teeth grinding out the name of that greedy devil, "Sonny Bono".

Also, Disney's hypocrisy really blocks that whole feel the magic thing. From denying their workers the right to affordable housing within convenient travel distance of their parks (they want it all for resort/retail) to stealing the works of others and over-branding them into unlovable mush (A.A. Milne must still weep in his grave) to this crap...it's really hard to square that with how much I want to go to their parks and be the 5 year old I never was.

Grrr. Now I'm all agitated. Time to go for a drive...

Free Mickey!
posted by batmonkey at 7:54 PM on August 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


I've always loved the fact my alma mater leveraged a friendship 60 years ago and gets to use a Disney character as a mascot - While the agreement's been formalized for over 30 years , I relish the thought of a small team of Disney lawyers still spending their lunch hours trying to figure out ways to unwind the deal.
posted by jalexei at 7:55 PM on August 22, 2008 [3 favorites]


I run a stupid site where I send stupid letters to companies. I sent Disney a letter. I kinda expected a legal threat or at least a rejection, but no.

I intend to eventually put it up on my site, but here it is:
June 9, 2008

Licensing Proposal – Publishing
Disney Publishing Worldwide
Attn: Business Development
114 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10011


Dear Disney,

This isn't really a proposal, more like a suggestion for a product lots of people would like to see. I know I am giving up all rights to make any kind of claim on the idea by sending it to you, but that's OK, I'd just like to see this one get done!

The other day I accidently searched on google (a popular search engine) for the following terms:

Nude Tinkerbell: 257,000
Erotic Tinkerbell: 222,000

The numbers are how many results each search returned! As you can see, there is quite the demand for this little nymph to be a little bad. Nothing tasteless mind you, but maybe a deck of nude playing cards with Tinkerbell in vintage poses, an erotic calendar, or even a well done magazine (with a centerfold of course).

The demand is out there! You might as well tap into this market. The results of the above two searches account for about 15% of all Tinkerbell hits! And people are doing this with or without your permission, so that's revenue you're just not getting. This seems stupid to me (and honestly, the quality of images out there just isn't up to the Disney standards).

Anyway, something to consider.

Sincerely,


Christopher L. Jorgensen
The second sentence in my letter comes from the legalese on their site that says if you even float an idea their way, they get it free, or some such. Of course, not being a lawyer, I probably read it incorrectly.
jackassletters.com
posted by cjorgensen at 8:07 PM on August 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


Mickey Mouse is trademarked, and trademarks don't expire. The earliest Mickey Mouse cartoons are about to enter the public domain, but that won't mean that Disney loses control over the character. No one else will be permitted to make new Mickey Mouse cartoons without permission.
posted by Class Goat at 8:11 PM on August 22, 2008


Ain't gonna work on Dizzy's farm no more
posted by longsleeves at 8:19 PM on August 22, 2008


SONNY: They say we're young and we won't know
How Mickeys' important until we grow

CHER: Well I don't know if all that's true
'Cause you got me, and baby I've got a copyright on you

Babe
copyright you babe
copyright you babe

SONNY: They can talk all they want about the tenth amendment
But with the royalties, our money's never spent

CHER: I guess that's so, all the cash we got
But we'll have some left when our careers' all shot

Babe
copyright you babe

SONNY: Seventy five years after I'm dead,
You'll marry Greg Allman instead

CHER: And when I'm bad I've got cash
You'll never call me poor white trash

SONNY: Don't let them say the terms' too long
'Cause I don't care, with you I can't go wrong

CHER: What's once was yours will now be mine
It's too bad you had to hit that pine

Babe
I copyright you babe
I copyright you babe
copyright on you babe
posted by Floydd at 8:22 PM on August 22, 2008 [4 favorites]


Nude Tinkerbell: 257,000...Erotic Tinkerbell: 222,000

Brings to mind The Disneyland Memorial Orgy | image.

Previously on MeFi.
posted by ericb at 8:28 PM on August 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


Excellent post!
posted by caddis at 8:40 PM on August 22, 2008


"If Walt Disney had lived another 20 years, the world today would be a much better place," Brown said. "I don't know anyone else I could say that about, except maybe Bobby Kennedy."

That's probably true. I can not imagine that Uncle Walt would have let the company descend into its current madness. Their current attitude is pretty amazing, as their greatest asset was certainly at one time, and may even still be, the warm and fuzzy image of the company as the land of childhood fun and wonder, when the reality is more like Hollywood at its worst. It's one thing to defend your IP vigorously, but quite another to do so by essentially overpowering any and all opponents with a legal blitzkrieg made possible by your vast financial resources. They are squandering an incredibly valuable corporate asset, perhaps even in violation of their fiduciary duty to the shareholders.....
posted by caddis at 8:54 PM on August 22, 2008


What was the last generation that actually saw him in an factual cartoon?

My kids watch Mickey Mouse Clubhouse regularly. "It's the Mickey Mouse ... Clubhouse! Come inside, it's fun inside! Buh, bum, buh buh bum dum pahh...M-I-C, K-E-YYYYYY..."
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:03 PM on August 22, 2008


Disney, a company which depended on Rogers & Hammerstein, The Brothers Grimm and so many other public domain sources all the way up to the Lion King

The Lion King is Hamlet, which is also public domain.
posted by shakespeherian at 9:18 PM on August 22, 2008


While the public debate rages over Disney, the real reason behind Sonny and Mary Bono's fight for copyright extension lies with the Church of Scientology.

Copyright has been and continues to be a fundamental tool for keeping their "spiritual materials" secret - and profitable. If and when L. Ron Hubbard's writings enter the public domain, the CoS will have to figure out a new approach. I doubt it will make much difference, there will always be people seeking empowerment, and the CoS will certainly claim that though the materials are available, only they can help interpret and implement LRH's knowledge.

Sonny Bono was a huge supporter of the CoS, though it's unclear whether or not he was actually a Scientologist.
posted by Xoebe at 9:57 PM on August 22, 2008


The Lion King is Hamlet

See also Kimba the white lion.
posted by Wolof at 10:13 PM on August 22, 2008 [2 favorites]


I wasn't expecting the Church of Scientology.....
posted by longsleeves at 10:15 PM on August 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


Cool Papa Bell writes "'It's the Mickey Mouse ... Clubhouse! Come inside, it's fun inside! Buh, bum, buh buh bum dum pahh...M-I-C, K-E-YYYYYY...'"

Aaahhh! Make it stop! Make.It.Stop!
posted by Mitheral at 10:54 PM on August 22, 2008


It's three overlapping circles when used as a logo. Should you really be allowed to copyright a silhouette of an incomplete Venn diagram?
posted by sourwookie at 1:03 AM on August 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


This is good news for the next generation of Air Pirates.
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 6:02 AM on August 23, 2008


One thing I don't understand is why they don't have small default copyright terms (7 years) and then corporations or individuals can renew the copyright for successive 7 year terms (up to a limit) so as long as they're still interested in making money from it they keep the copyright on it.

That way, when companies go bankrupt stuff can be put into the public domain and they can be kept alive instead of just thrown into the pit of abandoned but still copyrighted.
posted by Talez at 6:24 AM on August 23, 2008


This confirmed the sneaking, Matrix-y suspicion I've always had that Disney is 1, evil, and 2, everywhere. Bless you, Hiaasen, you cantankerous bastard. If you ever need help putting bull gators in the fake lakes, I am right there with ya.

(My favorite part is where they built a bunch of houses, cut corners everywhere possible, and then loopholed their way out of trouble after the entire subdivision was turned into scrap courtesy of Hurricane Andrew.)
posted by cmyk at 7:27 AM on August 23, 2008


I wasn't expecting the Church of Scientology.....

No one expects the Church of Scientology. Our chief weapon is surprise and...lawsuits... Our two weapons are surprise and lawsuits... Amongst our weaponry are such diverse elements as ruthless efficiency and an almost fanatical devotion to the principle that Battlefield Earth is the best movie ever made!
posted by jonp72 at 8:56 AM on August 23, 2008


No one expects the Church of Scientology! Their chief weapon is surprise...surprise and fear...fear and surprise.... Their two weapons are fear and surprise...and ruthless lawsuits.... Their *three* weapons are fear, surprise, and ruthless lawsuits...and a fanatical devotion to money....
posted by five fresh fish at 9:15 AM on August 23, 2008


Sonny Bono is remembered for exactly one thing : fucking up copyright.
posted by jeffburdges at 12:00 PM on August 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


One thing I don't understand is why they don't have small default copyright terms (7 years) and then corporations or individuals can renew the copyright for successive 7 year terms
That's roughly how copyright worked in the US before we joined the Berne convention countries, as I understand it (the default term was longer, and you didn't get it automatically like you do under the Berne convention, you had to register your work — which is exactly what Disney may not have done in this case.)
posted by hattifattener at 5:47 PM on August 23, 2008


Sonny Bono is remembered for exactly one thing : fucking up copyright.

While wearing a furry vest.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 6:15 PM on August 23, 2008


I know this is heretical on the internet, but I'll say it anyway- why shouldn't the creator of a work have perpetual control over his work?

(Also, my understanding of copyright says that the copyright exists at the moment a work is created. Registering it doesn't change the existence of the copyright, it is just a paper trail making it easier to prove when you created it.)
posted by gjc at 8:28 AM on August 24, 2008


gjc writes "why shouldn't the creator of a work have perpetual control over his work?"

Because no one's work exists in a vacuum. Also why should society enforce copyright laws if it isn't being enriched by works entering the public domain?
posted by Mitheral at 9:10 AM on August 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


(Also, my understanding of copyright says that the copyright exists at the moment a work is created. Registering it doesn't change the existence of the copyright, it is just a paper trail making it easier to prove when you created it.)

That's the way it works currently due to a relatively recent change in the laws. By my understanding the status of works created on or before 1963 (or even '68 maybe?) is generally based upon a combination of how and when they were registered, how and when registration was renewed, and how the notice of that registration is attached to the work itself (in the U.S., with everything 1923 and earlier having devolved to the public domain at this point in history).

So, point being, the no-registration concept appears to be an extremely modern notion *cough, cough lobbyist-and-graft-enacted-perversion-of-law*. In places like Sweden it's only in the last few years that laws have been changed to anything like what we've had in the U.S. during the past few decades.
posted by XMLicious at 12:41 PM on August 24, 2008


Also why should society enforce copyright laws if it isn't being enriched by works entering the public domain?

Because society is enriched to an even greater degree when artists contribute the maximum number and quantity of works, which they will do only when they are compensated for their efforts, and they can only be compensated effectively when they retain ownership of their works.

Now, I would happily dicker about the terms and duration of copyright, but not the mere existence of them in the first place.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 1:13 PM on August 24, 2008


...they can only be compensated effectively when they retain ownership of their works.

This isn't true. Even in the current system, authors frequently don't retain ownership of their works, they often transfer it away, in many cases resulting in what I'd certainly call ineffective compensation. In many, if not most cases, ownership of every creative work someone authors is automatically transferred to the author's employer via a clause in their employment contract, with no evaluation of value or specific compensation for the work. I would assert that the objective of the current contraption of laws and conception of creative acts as transferable intellectual property is not fairness to the author and certainly is not an attempt to pursue fairness in general.
posted by XMLicious at 1:47 PM on August 24, 2008


A couple of other thoughts on this:

My basic problem with the system as it is right now is that it isn't arranged to for the benefit of the artists and authors, it's arranged for the benefit of third parties who seek to profit off of the artists and authors.

Saying the mechanisms of the status quo are the only effective way to compensate them - the thing is that it sounds to me like FUD from said third parties. FUD that they've managed to get accepted as common wisdom. I can imagine a myriad of different approaches that could be taken, especially with an alternative system that expended the same amount of effort on enforcement and litigation that we do now.

It's like hearing that the only effective way we can have a modern energy economy is through petroleum and coal, period, end of story. Yeah, we've been made to invest heavily in the current system, to be politically pragmatic it's going to be in place for the foreseeable future and real, substantial change is a long way off - but there sure as hell are other effective energy sources besides petroleum and coal out there, there appear to be tons of viable alternative energy sources, plus variations and implementation details in each case, plus all kinds of hybrid options between multiple sources and between alternative energy and conservation strategies.
posted by XMLicious at 4:06 PM on August 24, 2008


Cool Papa Bell writes "I would happily dicker about the terms and duration of copyright, but not the mere existence of them in the first place."

And I got no problem with that. However gjc was advocating for perpetual copyright.
posted by Mitheral at 4:46 PM on August 24, 2008


Even in the current system, authors frequently don't retain ownership of their works, they often transfer it away <>choosing to transfer their rights. Which is something they could only do, by their own choice -- a ha! -- if they first owned the rights to begin with.

In many, if not most cases, ownership of every creative work someone authors is automatically transferred to the author's employer via a clause in their employment contract

Now you're describing a different kind of contractual relationship, a work for hire, which is again entered into freely by both parties. And again, this is dependent on their being a legal framework in which a rights owner can transfer, purchase and/or otherwise retain copyright.

My basic problem with the system as it is right now is that it isn't arranged to for the benefit of the artists and authors, it's arranged for the benefit of third parties who seek to profit off of the artists and authors.

Again, you're not unhappy with copyright. You're unhappy with contractual relationships that arise thereafter.

FUD that they've managed to get accepted as common wisdom.

Common wisdom that has been enshrined by various laws since 1709.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 8:33 PM on August 24, 2008


My first paragraph got eaten by my bad HTML coding...

Even in the current system, authors frequently don't retain ownership of their works, they often transfer it away

Emphasis mine. What you're describing here is an artist choosing to transfer their rights. That's a contractual relationship, which exists side by side with copyright claims. Which is something they could only do, by their own choice -- a ha! -- if they first owned the rights to begin with.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 8:35 PM on August 24, 2008


You're simply assuming your conclusions here. Nothing you've said in response there, nor your Statute of Anne link, has anything to do with the intellectual property trope being the "only effective means" for authors to get compensated.

Nor, I would note, did you even try to approach the issue of whether they do get effectively compensated. Who cares whether authors have the "right" to choose to not be compensated? Not a very valuable right - pretty obviously a red herring, in fact - if all of the money ends up the hands of, for example, recording execs and shareholders.

To reiterate, the point is that the system isn't designed to compensate authors no matter how hard you pretend it is. It's practically an accident when they do get compensated. So your "only effective means" thing is just a complete crock, as is any suggestion that fairness towards authors is a goal here. This is thinking that's been carefully and gradually twisted and sculpted by industries financed by other people's creative acts.

It's quite like Orwellian Newspeak - we've been trained to think of creative acts and ideas in terms of intangible, transferable property and exclusive, monopolistic and government-enforced policing, trained so well that we can't even conceive of things working any other way and we can't help but use industrial language to talk about these things.
posted by XMLicious at 4:30 AM on August 25, 2008


« Older Nothing but a few pretty pictures....  |  Tribalcog... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments