"A free public domain version of Fantasia is far too expensive"
October 29, 2013 2:08 PM   Subscribe

In 2018, will Mickey Mouse enter the public domain?

The comments are a target rich environment for playing 'spot the shill':

"Denying the Chinese the right to sell countless millions of Mickey Mouse chocolates full of chemicals that simulate chocolate but destroy the liver, for example, is NOT in the public interest."

"There are goods and services invented by someone's great-grandpa and the kids are still making profit from it. And we're okay with that. So why do works of art get tossed into the public arena? Is this yet another slap in the face of artists?"

"If Mickey Mouse was turned into a widely known poragraphic figure by Larry Flint, who would ever take their children to Disney World again."
posted by Sebmojo (83 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
 
The short and long answers are both no. Disney's ties to Congress are deep.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 2:10 PM on October 29, 2013 [7 favorites]


Paging Ian Betteridge. Betteridge to the white courtesy phone please.
posted by kmz at 2:11 PM on October 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


Writing for a seven-member majority in 2003, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg ruled that Congress had broad discretion to choose copyright terms and to retroactively extend them as it saw fit.

But Ruth Bader Ginsburg is best justice! Noooo!
posted by Going To Maine at 2:12 PM on October 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


(Most justice? Supremest justice? I am unclear of the proper title.)
posted by Going To Maine at 2:12 PM on October 29, 2013


I was talking with a friend and I was trying to figure out if something was copyrighted. I asked him if it had been created before or after Mickey Mouse. After, so it's most likely still copyrighted.
posted by Hactar at 2:13 PM on October 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


Madamest Justice?

it's some type of superlative, i'm sure
posted by axiom at 2:14 PM on October 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


(It's easier than checking the date and figuring out how many years to add.)
posted by Hactar at 2:14 PM on October 29, 2013


But if we don't incentivize rent-taking, then who will take the rent?
posted by ckape at 2:15 PM on October 29, 2013 [48 favorites]


God here we go again. This time they'll probably try to sneak it through tied to some other legislation. The whole business is infuriating.
posted by JHarris at 2:15 PM on October 29, 2013 [4 favorites]


In 2017, the U.S. Congress will pass the Zombie Sonny Bono Copyright Reform Act.
posted by adamrice at 2:15 PM on October 29, 2013 [13 favorites]


the right to sell countless millions of [...] chocolates full of chemicals that simulate chocolate

This is a right enjoyed by the hardworking Americans of Hershey, PA
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 2:16 PM on October 29, 2013 [32 favorites]


Compromise worthy of Solomon: extend the copyright, but only for grimdark and steampunk versions of these characters. Lots of spikes and striped leggings. Out cultural heritage will be safe and XTREEM.
posted by Sticherbeast at 2:20 PM on October 29, 2013 [11 favorites]


Short answer no, long answer noooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 2:20 PM on October 29, 2013 [40 favorites]


Writing for a seven-member majority in 2003, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg ruled that Congress had broad discretion to choose copyright terms and to retroactively extend them as it saw fit.

But Ruth Bader Ginsburg is best justice! Noooo!


She's right. so contact your congressman.
posted by Ironmouth at 2:22 PM on October 29, 2013 [7 favorites]


Denying the Chinese the right to sell countless millions of Mickey Mouse chocolates full of chemicals that simulate chocolate but destroy the liver, for example, is NOT in the public interest."

"There are goods and services invented by someone's great-grandpa and the kids are still making profit from it. And we're okay with that. So why do works of art get tossed into the public arena? Is this yet another slap in the face of artists?"

"If Mickey Mouse was turned into a widely known poragraphic figure by Larry Flint, who would ever take their children to Disney World again."


Which one's the shill?
posted by box at 2:22 PM on October 29, 2013


She's right. so contact your congressman.

And then donate more money to them than Disney does.

(You're not wrong, there's just no way that letters are outweighing money on this one.)
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 2:25 PM on October 29, 2013 [6 favorites]


Patent and develop cancer drug with hundreds of people, at cost of billions = ~10 years patent coverage
Draw whistling rat = life of author + 70 years
posted by benzenedream at 2:25 PM on October 29, 2013 [55 favorites]


These billionaires are angry gods
We must appease them
With the burnt offerings
Of our checkbooks.
If they do not smile upon us
The crops shall wither,
The sun shall not rise.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 2:28 PM on October 29, 2013 [19 favorites]


This guide to current copyright terms will give you (a) a good overview of when, and under what conditions, certain works will fall into the public domain, and (b) a headache. At the moment, 1923 is the magic year. After that it gets... complicated.

Also worth noting is the Supreme Court's Dastar decision. Disney has strong trademark rights which are perpetual as long as use is still made, and which they may attempt to bring to bear if in fact no extension is granted.
posted by schoolgirl report at 2:28 PM on October 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg ruled that Congress had broad discretion to choose copyright terms and to retroactively extend them as it saw fit.

She's quite right, actually. Congress does indeed have the authority to determine copyright terms. The fact that they come up with the shittiest terms possible does not, sadly, affect their authority to do so.
posted by echo target at 2:28 PM on October 29, 2013 [4 favorites]


She's right. so contact your congressman.

And then donate more money to them than Disney does.

(You're not wrong, there's just no way that letters are outweighing money on this one.)


Man, the ability of people to complain about political decisions they don't like and then to throw up their hands at a single phone call to try and fix it is beyond me.
posted by Ironmouth at 2:29 PM on October 29, 2013 [7 favorites]


But 15 years ago this Sunday, President Clinton signed the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act...

Ah yes, another reason to dislike Clinton (admittedly one of the best Republican presidents yet, but Obama might end up taking that prize from him).
posted by el io at 2:29 PM on October 29, 2013 [14 favorites]


Congress may have broad discretion, but as a commenter on the WP post says, continually extending terms undermines the purpose stated in the copyright clause of the Constitution. The longer the term, the less likely it will "promote the Progress of Science and Useful Arts."
posted by audi alteram partem at 2:30 PM on October 29, 2013 [5 favorites]


Mickey Mouse is a trademark, and trademarks don't expire.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 2:30 PM on October 29, 2013 [5 favorites]


How is copyright affected if, say, Mickey Mouse is being used by the Disney corporation in new works? Disney is currently churning out new episodes of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse and Mickey and the gang are currently appearing in new animated shorts. Does this have any bearing on a possible extension?
posted by BrianJ at 2:30 PM on October 29, 2013


She's quite right, actually. Congress does indeed have the authority to determine copyright terms.

I dunno, they are authorized to create limited terms. They have instead created functionally unlimited terms.
posted by Drinky Die at 2:30 PM on October 29, 2013 [6 favorites]


Man, the ability of people to complain about political decisions they don't like and then to throw up their hands at a single phone call to try and fix it is beyond me.

Nice of you to assume I didn't try that when they passed life+70.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 2:31 PM on October 29, 2013 [5 favorites]


Man, the ability of people to complain about political decisions they don't like and then to throw up their hands at a single phone call to try and fix it is beyond me.

Have you called about this?
posted by Drinky Die at 2:33 PM on October 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


"In 2018, will Mickey Mouse enter the public domain?"

No. Mickey Mouse, a trademarked character will not enter the public domain. Trademarks can lapse if not used and defended, but as long as they are used and defended, they do not expire.

So, in 2020, assume no changes in law, Steamboat Willie will enter the public domain and you may do what you wish with it -- except take Mickey Mouse out of it, stick him on a T-shirt, and sell it, because that would violate Disney's trademarks on the character, which they defend far more vigorously than they do the copyrights.
posted by eriko at 2:33 PM on October 29, 2013 [93 favorites]


eriko ftw.
posted by pencroft at 2:36 PM on October 29, 2013


The fact that I just now understand that difference because of how eriko just explained it -- after years of occasionally thinking about this issue for a few seconds at a time -- just proves how screwed those who care about said issue are.

Because I don't know much but I know I'm smarter than most of Congress.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 2:40 PM on October 29, 2013 [4 favorites]


BRB gotta figure out this wearable videoscreen technology so I can start selling t-shirts that play Steamboat Willie in its entirety. TAKE THAT, TRADEMARK LAW.
posted by incessant at 2:40 PM on October 29, 2013 [12 favorites]


We need a hero.
posted by spitbull at 2:44 PM on October 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Google, with luck.
posted by alasdair at 2:49 PM on October 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


These billionaires are angry gods
We must appease them
With the burnt offerings
Of our checkbooks.
If they do not smile upon us
The crops shall wither,
The sun shall not rise.


And our re-election campaigns shall falter,
and we shall fall before those with fewer scruples
and bigger war chests.

(Don't weep for campaign finance reform, it was doomed from the [many] start[s])
posted by filthy light thief at 2:51 PM on October 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


The point about Mickey Mouse being a trademark, and Disney not losing their rights just because Steamboat Willie (1928) goes public domain, is the one thing that gives me some hope that maybe this time, copyright won't be extended another 10 years.

I always thought it was Winnie the Pooh (1926-1928) which was a bigger problem. The original books are still massive money makers, aren't they?
posted by RedOrGreen at 2:53 PM on October 29, 2013


New term: Heat death of the universe - 1
posted by ckape at 2:54 PM on October 29, 2013 [12 favorites]


But if we don't let the copyrights expire then how will we ever motivate these lazy shiftless bastards (who just happen to have had a creative and industrious grandparent) to go out and get jobs and start contributing to society?
posted by rocket88 at 2:54 PM on October 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


There are goods and services invented by someone's great-grandpa and the kids are still making profit from it. And we're okay with that. So why do works of art get tossed into the public arena? Is this yet another slap in the face of artists?

This one bothers me the most, much like the similar "would you take away someone's right to farm their grandfather's land?" Both making money from goods and services, and farming (which is really the same thing), require continued investments to reap a profit, whereas "lifetime+70" is sitting around and waiting for the checks to roll in.

The only artists being slapped are long dead. They've moved on.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:55 PM on October 29, 2013 [6 favorites]


No. Mickey Mouse, a trademarked character will not enter the public domain. Trademarks can lapse if not used and defended, but as long as they are used and defended, they do not expire.

That seems like a weird loophole given that characters not protected by copyright (such as Snow White) cannot be trademarked. Is it explicitly legal to hold a trademark on a character whose copyright protection has subsequently lapsed? Or are there examples of companies that have trademark protection on public domain characters because they were granted trademarks before their copyright expired?
posted by burnmp3s at 3:00 PM on October 29, 2013


spitbull: We need a hero.

It was supposed to be the US Supreme Court, but in a 2003 decision they issued a staggeringly-idiotic opinion on this point. The entire case turned on a definition of "limited" that was so tortured I'm not certain that Ginsburg's majority opinion wasn't actually shadow authored by Scalia.

Take a look at Breyer's dissent for a thorough takedown of this dreadful opinion.

In summary: the court ignored hundreds of years of copyright history and development in the United States, and finds that what the founding fathers really meant by the copyright clause ("to promote the progress of . . . useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors . . . the exclusive right to their respective writings") was that Congress could indefinitely, and even retroactively (as in taking material out of the public domain and re-copyrighting it), extend copyright as many times or as often as they want, so long as they did it for a finite number of years at a time.
posted by Vox Nihili at 3:09 PM on October 29, 2013 [10 favorites]


She's right.

I strongly disagree. To say that a period well exceeding a hundred years, with no provision for orphaned works and no codified definition of what constitutes fair use, fits within "limited times" flies in the face of any sensible definition of "limited."

That doesn't even address the preceding clause of "to promote the progress of science and useful arts" and the ways that many have demonstrated that these extended terms harm our culture and work against the broader interest.
posted by phearlez at 3:10 PM on October 29, 2013 [15 favorites]


I'm not sure why there can't be a default term of five years and further registration required after that with a nominal fee involved?
posted by Talez at 3:20 PM on October 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


So you call and say what? There's an bill potentially coming down the pipe in 3 years that I feel strongly about even if you're no longer in office?
posted by Carillon at 3:22 PM on October 29, 2013 [5 favorites]


That seems like a weird loophole given that characters not protected by copyright (such as Snow White) cannot be trademarked

I'd be kinda surprised if Disney couldn't trademark their representation of Snow White, or Cinderella, or Robin Hood as a fox, even if they can't trademark all Snow Whiteses or Cinderellas or Robin Hoods, vulpine or not, or their names.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 3:29 PM on October 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


2018, eh?
Dood, the mashups are gonna be epic!
posted by Thorzdad at 3:30 PM on October 29, 2013


I'd be kinda surprised if Disney couldn't trademark their representation of Snow White, or Cinderella, or Robin Hood as a fox, even if they can't trademark all Snow Whiteses or Cinderellas or Robin Hoods, vulpine or not, or their names.

That's my understanding. In fact, I don't think many slogans and word marks like "Got Milk?" and "It's the real thing." can be protected by copyright.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 3:40 PM on October 29, 2013


I understand that the trademarked status of Mickey (and the still in effect copyrights for the vast majority of post-Steamboat Willie works he's in) means that, even if the one cartoon enters the public domain, people can't just pick up the character of Mickey as we know him and run with it.

However, would people be able to create derivative works from Steamboat Willie that used Mickey, as long as they didn't tread on other copyrights? (Not that I'd recommend it. Disney's lawyers would find a way to eat you alive.)
posted by DirtyOldTown at 3:40 PM on October 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Which one's not the shill?

It was a trick question. None of them are not the shill.
posted by Sebmojo at 3:43 PM on October 29, 2013 [7 favorites]


So, in 2020, assume no changes in law, Steamboat Willie will enter the public domain and you may do what you wish with it -- except take Mickey Mouse out of it, stick him on a T-shirt, and sell it, because that would violate Disney's trademarks on the character, which they defend far more vigorously than they do the copyrights.

Even then, all you could really do is replicate the story of Steamboat Willie, but without any of Disney's trademarked properties. So you could make a claymation version called Cruise Ship Joe, in which Joe is a talking turnip. Even if you had an original 1928 copy that somehow hadn't decayed into dust, all you could really do is convert it to DVD for your personal use.

That's why the comments mentioned above are shills. They intentionally conflate trademark and copyright to scare people into thinking we need perpetual copyright with no fair use, or we'll live in some dystopian nightmare in which children are fed mercury-laced chocolates shaped like Porno Mickey.
posted by dirigibleman at 3:43 PM on October 29, 2013 [16 favorites]


benzenedream: "Patent and develop cancer drug with hundreds of people, at cost of billions = ~10 years patent coverage
Draw whistling rat = life of author + 70 years
"

See - evidence that the public good argument means fewer years in protection. Or do you argue that Mickey Mouse is a greater public good than medications that save lives?
posted by symbioid at 3:44 PM on October 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


Even then, all you could really do is replicate the story of Steamboat Willie, but without any of Disney's trademarked properties. So you could make a claymation version called Cruise Ship Joe, in which Joe is a talking turnip. Even if you had an original 1928 copy that somehow hadn't decayed into dust, all you could really do is convert it to DVD for your personal use.

You could use all the parts of the cartoon that aren't Mickey Mouse, though, right? You could strip Mickey from the backgrounds, and have a version of Steamboat Willie without him, ala Garfield Minus Garfield. Or you could digitally scramble him into an unrecognizable glitch monster.
posted by rifflesby at 3:58 PM on October 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


You could use all the parts of the cartoon that aren't Mickey Mouse, though, right? You could strip Mickey from the backgrounds, and have a version of Steamboat Willie without him, ala Garfield Minus Garfield. Or you could digitally scramble him into an unrecognizable glitch monster.

You could probably do much of that now - it's not like Garfield's out of copyright. As long as you're not trying to make a profit and not trying to reproduce/replace the original so as to cause confusion, you'd probably pass the fair use test. (Lawyers! Show up and tell me why I'm wrong.)
posted by Going To Maine at 4:03 PM on October 29, 2013


Going To Maine: "Writing for a seven-member majority in 2003, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg ruled that Congress had broad discretion to choose copyright terms and to retroactively extend them as it saw fit.

But Ruth Bader Ginsburg is best justice! Noooo!
"

Speaking of shills....
posted by Samizdata at 4:09 PM on October 29, 2013


Not a lawyer, but there are a lot of different factors that go into a fair use defense -- and you could end up having to go to court and defend yourself, so even if you're doing something that genuinely ought to fall under fair use, it could be more trouble than it's worth to try to make a case for it.

If it's out of copyright, then you aren't going to be put in the position of lawyers maybe coming after you even if you're in the right. And there's a lot more you can do with it outside the specific (education, parody, etc) uses covered under fair use.
posted by Jeanne at 4:14 PM on October 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


There's a deal to be struck here. As others have suggested, there needs to be a payment to keep copyrighted works copyrighted. This payment needs to be registered.

This would quite definitively get all the orphan and unprofitable old works into the public domain, for which allowing Mickey Mouse to stay Disney's is a small price to pay.
posted by shivohum at 4:28 PM on October 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


(Most justice? Supremest justice? I am unclear of the proper title.)

Justest Justice, surely?
posted by Runcible! at 4:40 PM on October 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm not sure why there can't be a default term of five years and further registration required after that with a nominal fee involved?

Yeah! Poor people shouldn't be allowed to own intellectual property!
posted by aubilenon at 5:00 PM on October 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Won't the trademarks on Mickey and other characters serve to limit non-Disney commercial use of the characters?
posted by humanfont at 5:07 PM on October 29, 2013


I would assume that should the Disney legal/lobbying team run low on cash, the Tolkien estate would be more than happy to contribute to the cause.
posted by Ber at 5:11 PM on October 29, 2013


Going To Maine: "Writing for a seven-member majority in 2003, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg ruled that Congress had broad discretion to choose copyright terms and to retroactively extend them as it saw fit.

But Ruth Bader Ginsburg is best justice! Noooo!"

Speaking of shills....


I hope my fanboying isn't being taken too seriously here. Opinions formed from listening to a few different oral arguments, readings of decisions, her record number of appearances before the Court (and her favorite records), plus things like this shouldn't be taken as detailed analyses of her legal opinions, though I do use my general faith in her judgment as a proxy for any such analysis on my part (and hence my distress when I find that it differs from my own, usually suggesting that a decision deserves some deeper consideration). She's dreamy.

Also, I like her quote from United States v. Virginia about how "a prime part of the history of our Constitution is the story of the extension of constitutional rights to people once ignored or excluded," but legal decisions by the Supremes are rife with money quotes.
posted by Going To Maine at 5:24 PM on October 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Mickey Mouse stands for America the world over; I think the patent should be ceded to the gov't for the sake of society.
posted by Renoroc at 5:47 PM on October 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Mickey Mouse stands for America the world over;

Disney Corp hates Canada. Unless they really want the rest of the world to embrace file-sharing.
posted by ovvl at 6:08 PM on October 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


I mean: I'm actually kind of okay with the idea of Mickey Mouse remaining the exclusive property of Disney for as long as they continue to actively depend on it (with the usual protections for satire parody commentary academic use etc etc etc.) I'm not convinced it needs to be, but I can see that as a reasonable position a reasonable person might take.

But the idea that every created symbol and representation and character that happens to have been created era A.M. was needs to get dragged along with it, that the creative product of all of modern history should be locked down because of that one character is just bizarre.

I don't know what metric you use to determine whether something deserves copyright protection, but age just is clearly not it.
posted by ook at 6:08 PM on October 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


The truly maddening thing about trademark is it's original intent was to protect the consumer from fraud by establishing the origin of a product, but it has morphed into this crazy anticompetitive tool—not only is it a way of thwarting the expiration of copyright for fictional characters, but it's a way for trademark holders to claim exclusive use of common phrases, words, and even colors. In a perfect world, the only thing that trademark would protect would be actual trade marks, i.e. logo types used in conjunction with specific goods or services.
posted by Trace McJoy at 6:58 PM on October 29, 2013 [7 favorites]


The book Against Intellectual Monopoly makes a good economic case against the existence of all patent and copyright laws. (Patents cover ideas, copyrights the expression of an idea). It's a rare example of actually looking at the data: what effects these laws have when implemented, rather than arguing from vague abstract ideas.

But even they think that trademarks are a good idea. Without some kind of trademark protection, consumers wouldn't know what they were getting. If there were no trademarks, you could walk into a shop and buy what you thought was an Apple iPhone, only to find it's a crappy knock-off with the exact Apple branding on the box and the product.

Trademarks can be abused, by being too broad and covering words, phrases and images that should be free. But the basic principle is sound. Trademarks are probably the most solidly useful form of intellectual monopoly.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 3:10 AM on October 30, 2013


They should make this cheaper or else they would lose a lot of customers.
posted by bigvibes at 3:55 AM on October 30, 2013


It was supposed to be the US Supreme Court, but in a 2003 decision they issued a staggeringly-idiotic opinion on this point. The entire case turned on a definition of "limited" that was so tortured I'm not certain that Ginsburg's majority opinion wasn't actually shadow authored by Scalia.

Depending on the Supreme Court to fix policy is a terrible plan. Unfortunately, the Democrats are bought and paid for by Hollywood, and the Republicans are bought and paid for by big corporate interests, so the chance of sane policy re: copyrights ever coming out of Washington is pretty low.

The only real solution for people is to simply ignore copyright and hope that they aren't the random person that gets shit on by the federal government or the MPAA to make a point.
posted by empath at 4:15 AM on October 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


Mickey Mouse, a trademarked character will not enter the public domain.

Not quite true, if I'm not mistaken. There have been incidents where copyright lapsed Disney material was published without trademark infringement (e.g. Eternity's reprints of 1920ties Mickey Mouse comic strips with blank covers) were deemed infringing because Disney still held character copyright on Mickey Mouse.

How his first appearance becoming a public domain work influences this...
posted by MartinWisse at 7:09 AM on October 30, 2013


Or do you argue that Mickey Mouse is a greater public good than medications that save lives?

HOUSE: No! Hygiene drug will kill Patient! He needs mouse bites to live!


What I'd like to see is a scheme where there's some kind of Extended Copyright Renewal Fee. Everyone already knows that Disney's willing to pay through the nose to lobby for the extension every time it comes up. Why not have that money going straight into the Treasury instead of into campaign funds?

Perhaps the idea of them paying the same amount, but to only extend their own copyrights into perpetuity, and not Warner Brothers', Dreamworks' or anyone elses would appeal to them. Gets them more value for their dollar because it opens up the opportunity for them to outspend/outlast the competition.
posted by radwolf76 at 7:36 AM on October 30, 2013 [4 favorites]


What I'd like to see is a scheme where there's some kind of Extended Copyright Renewal Fee.

Me too. One positive would be that works currently under extended copyright but with no clear ownership could have a simplified path towards entering public domain, instead of being in indefinite limbo.
posted by ZeusHumms at 8:11 AM on October 30, 2013


Perhaps the idea of them paying the same amount, but to only extend their own copyrights into perpetuity, and not Warner Brothers', Dreamworks' or anyone elses would appeal to them. Gets them more value for their dollar because it opens up the opportunity for them to outspend/outlast the competition.
I think this is a good compromise parallel to trademarks that serves the needs of both archivists and media producers. I think another potential qualification might be that you need to actually keep the work in question "in print" so to speak. One problem with current copyright law consists of historical materials with trivial commercial value in their original form and/or ownership by effectively "dead" legal entities. The Gershwin estate can keep Porgy and Rhapsody under their control as long as they are performed, while arrangements of his lesser-known contemporaries can be rediscovered by the current generation of jazz, blues, and hip hop performers.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 8:54 AM on October 30, 2013


It would also torpedo their stupid "Disney Vault" thing which I hate because it's dumb, so I am completely in support.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 8:56 AM on October 30, 2013


I don't know what metric you use to determine whether something deserves copyright protection, but age just is clearly not it.

No, age is the perfect metric. Age is what causes people to fall out of existence, as older things fall out of relevance it becomes unimportant to devote resources to their legal protection. For every Mickey Mouse that might still be relevant today (and let's face it, Mickey is not really that popular anymore), millions of things no one has ever heard off have fallen off entropy's conveyor belt.

(Why you're saying clearly, I have no idea. Words of certainty should be left for cases that are really certain.)
posted by JHarris at 10:04 AM on October 30, 2013


I'm not sure why there can't be a default term of five years and further registration required after that with a nominal fee involved?

It's already done with much-shorter patents: maintenance fees for US patents are due 3.5, 7.5, and 11.5 years after grant, and if you don't pay the fee, the patent expires early. (If those numbers seem a bit weird, there's a six-month grace period—with an additional charge if you pay during the grace period—so when you add in the grace period, it's 4, 8, and 12 years.)
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 10:07 AM on October 30, 2013


I think the copyright / trademark distinction for something like a DVD or a T-shirt would be "are people buying it because of the content, or are they buying it because the Mickey Mouse makes people think it's from Disney?"

Like, if I buy a shirt with Mickey Mouse on it because I wanted a shirt with Mickey Mouse on it, and I don't care whether it's from Disney, then it's a matter of copyright. If I think the Mickey Mouse on it means it's made by Disney, and I would feel ripped off if I later discover that I accidentally bought a non-Disney Mickey Mouse shirt, then it's a matter for trademark.

Of course, there are people who will deliberately buy stuff like fake Gucci that they know is fake because other people won't know it's fake, so there's maybe some cross-over between the two motivations, but at least this is the starting point of how you'd differentiate what's still protected by a trademarked character that isn't copyrighted.
posted by RobotHero at 12:32 PM on October 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


I think the copyright / trademark distinction for something like a DVD or a T-shirt would be "are people buying it because of the content, or are they buying it because the Mickey Mouse makes people think it's from Disney?"

Except Disney has purposely fostered this confusion by using the Mickey Mouse trademark everywhere. It's their fault the character has this dual nature, it should not be used as a defense of either copyright or trademark.

It never ceases to amaze me how people are willing to give corporations the benefit of the doubt, to "play fair" with them, to try to theorize about ways their interests and those of other people can both be served. Mickey Mouse could be indelibly linked to mass murder at this point and the Disney Corporation would still exist, even thrive. Because they have hundreds of other properties, both created and purchased, and theme parks, and movie and TV studios, and multiple TV networks and channels, and billions of dollars besides.

They don't need Mickey Mouse. And they know this. But they have a lot invested in the character, and it's cheaper for them to push copyright extending legislation through Congress than to establish a new character. You can bet this is how it goes down in the higher spires of Disney Tower. The crime isn't just that our elected officials can be bought, but that they can be bought for so little.
posted by JHarris at 5:03 PM on October 30, 2013


That seems like a weird loophole given that characters not protected by copyright (such as Snow White) cannot be trademarked

Snow White, the children's story, and Snow White, the children's story character, are public domain and cannot be trademarked.

Snow White, the Disney cartoon character, is most certainly trademarked and that's why any other version of Snow White in relative media has to be notably different in appearance outside of parody or artistic commentary, etc.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 5:30 AM on October 31, 2013


Trademark isn't going to care about parody or artistic commentary, that's copyright again.

Trademark is going to care whether people will think Snow White Sugar or Snow White Laundry Detergent is endorsed by Disney.
posted by RobotHero at 11:05 AM on November 1, 2013


Just now I remember a public-domain character who is also a trademark: Robin Hood
posted by RobotHero at 8:25 AM on November 2, 2013


I find it very amusing that the posters coming up with reasonable copyright laws are basically arguing for U.S. copyright law as it existed many years ago.
posted by Monochrome at 5:27 PM on November 10, 2013 [1 favorite]






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