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Mickey Mouse Stop Signs Protest Copyright Extension

A street artist named Denmark has added a set of attachments to several local stop signs in Los Angeles and Burbank in protest of Disney’s ongoing lobbying efforts to change copyright law and extend copyrights on its short films of the 1920s and ’30s. Denmark told street art blog Wooster Collective:

“I recently did an installation in and around Los Angeles protesting Copyright Extension, which is Disney’s very effective lobbying to keep Mickey Mouse, and works created thereafter, out of the public domain.”

Thanks to congressional lobbying by Disney, traditional copyright terms have gone from 28 years to at least 95 years – or even longer (the law since 1998). Some have argued that films falling into public domain has actually saved them from extinction. Though Disney does a good job of making its library available to the public (with the obvious exception of Song of The South) other studios, unaware of any value these assets may yield, vault and abuse their older animated shorts still under copyright protection. This debate has been raging for years–it’s nice to see it take such a creative turn.

(via Art Info)

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  • Mac

    A world without intellectual property is so hard to imagine… let’s just be afraid of it forever and resist no matter what.

  • Mark Sonntag

    It’s an interesting debate, because even if Mickey went into the public domain, with his visual appearance protected as a trademark, you really couldn’t do much anyway.

    In any case I see Disney’s point, they keep using the characters and want to make sure that the way they’re sold or presented is in keeping with their marketing strategy at any given time. Doesn’t bother me, I’d rather have a print from Disney than some crappy scratched up print from elsewhere.

    • Amid

      If you’re debating what this means for Mickey Mouse or Disney shorts, you’ve totally missed the point. No one cares that Goofy isn’t in the public domain. The problem with Disney’s tampering with copyright law is that it affects TENS OF MILLIONS of non-Disney properties. Locking away such a huge chunk of cultural history makes the entire world’s culture poorer, and all because one corporation wants to become richer.

      • Chris Sobieniak

        Sure does. This just seems typical of corporations to stay on top.

      • Tom Lowe

        Having been on the receiving end of your comments about selling short films (by Bob Godfrey) – it appears you have a problem in general with studios making money from their back catalogue.

      • Amid

        Tom – Your comments completely misrepresent what I wrote. I’m all in favor of artists making money from their work. My specific comments in regards to Bob Godfrey’s catalog was questioning whether it made sense to sell downloads of obscure shorts from half a century ago.

        I suggested more proven ways of making money from old shorts, such as selling ads against free online streams (a la YouTube), or creating an app with added value like interviews and extra artwork.

        In any case, it’s difficult to make money from vintage indie animated shorts. There are other ways to derive value from them besides strictly monetary.

      • Johnny

        The problem clearly isn’t with Disney (who have made most of their material available).
        The laws themselves need adjusting so that an applicant can have their own back catalogue protected without affecting the work of others.

  • Charles Kenny

    The sad part is that works that fall into the public domain continue to make money for plenty of people in spite of what corporations like Disney claim.

    I’ve never heard of a publisher going broke by publishing Dickens, Twain or Austen…

  • DarylT

    I persoanlly think public domain is a ridiculous idea. I wouldn’t like it if was something I created. Perfectly understandble for Disney to do it. Besides when things go into public domain nobody cares except for the people who want to use it in a deregatory light, so I say leave it with the company that created it. Sounds fair to me.

    • Jonathan

      A “deragatory light” eh…
      Many of those films contain many themes and ideascommon in the era they were created, and help modern day viewers understand the past. As someone who has made a history film public domain material such as phoographs, moving images, etc. that related to the subject, was a HUGE and necessary asset to make my film/video enjoyable, and informative. I am sorry but teaching, not too mention inspiring, people is not a deragatory light.

      • DarylT

        I meant someone using him in porn like that. Thats what people are not thinking off. They think oh let’s release all the old shorts into public domain then we can get our hands on them. Not thinking that the characters will also be in public domain and you know someone would use a character like Mickey in some sick way to make a point.

      • Jonathan

        People don’t do that already?…

    • Amid

      DarylT – You may think public domain is a ridiculous, but you know who doesn’t think it’s ridiculous? The Walt Disney Company.

      The public domain has been essential to their success as a company, and they’ve based many of their films on PD works including:

      Snow White based on a public domain work by Brothers Grimm
      Pinocchio based on a PD work by Carlo Collodi
      The Little Mermaid based on a PD work by Hans Christian Anderson
      Cinderella based on a PD work by Charles Perrault
      Sleeping Beauty based on PD works by Charles Perrault and Tchaikovsky
      Alice in Wonderland based on a PD work by Lewis Carroll

      • DarylT

        The big difference here is that Snow White is a story that can be interpreted in a lot of different ways. Mickey is a character with a recognisable image and personality. I would hate for him to go into public domain and be used in porn or something. Copyright law should be different for different nature of intellectual properties.

  • CC

    A nice TED talk on copyright:

  • Jonathan

    I hope you fellows realize that if it wasn’t for the public domain, you wouldn’t have a Disney Company. As a matter of fact there wouldn’t be a Hollywood movie industry… Those studios got their start turning many public domain works into films.

  • Superdeformed

    If the public domain limit was still 28 years someone would have released the definitive Tom & Jerry/Looney Toons DVD Sets years ago.

    Still older media companies will have an advantage so long as the have old pre-digital masters.

    • Paul

      You would not have gotten a definitive restored set of Tom & Jerry/Looney Toons cartoons on DVD if they were allowed to go into the public domain. But you would have gotten the same crappie public domain compilations of 16mm prints.

      Warner Brothers would not have had any incentive to invest in the high cost or restoring the cartoons from their nitrate masters if they could not hold exclusive rights to releasing the cartoons to make their investment back.

      In the film world, Public Domain means little restoration work would be done and we would only have scratchy, splicy, 16mm film transfers.

      In the book publishing world it usually benefits publishers who don’t want to pay the estate of the author to publish his/her work. The creator and their family do not benefit.

  • Toonio

    For a company whose creator said to keep moving forward seems it’s more convenient to remain stuck in the past.

  • Mike Cagle

    DarylT, it really doesn’t matter if you think public domain is a “ridiculous idea.” (You speak as if it’s a strange new thing being proposed.) Copyright is not supposed to protect things forever; it never was. The idea is that, in return for thinking up cool stuff, you get the right, for a LIMITED PERIOD, to profit exclusively from your idea. Then, it has to go into the pot for other people to be able to use (and possibly improve, to the benefit of society). (This is based on the notion of balancing personal profit with social benefit – these days some people seem to think only the first one is valid.) And if it weren’t for being able to use stuff from that pot, like Snow White, Cinderella, Alice, etc., Disney never could have got started. At some point, they have to let Mickey into the cultural stew, just like Hercules and all the other great characters humans have created through history.

    • DarylT

      I know it’s a old concept but I still don’t like the concept. The big difference here is that Snow White is a story that can be interpreted in a lot of different ways. Mickey is a character with a recognisable image and personality. I would hate for him to go into public domain and be used in porn or something. Copyright law should be different for different ideas.

      • ladym

        You’re really hung up on this idea of Mickey being in porn, aren’tcha?

        Regardless, it’s a non-issue. Mickey is trademarked. releasing the old films wouldn’t give people free reign to use his likeness.

        Honestly, if there were a way to allow Disney to keep all their old stuff, I’d be all for it. It’s all the other media that’s being surpressed that has people upset. There are hundreds if not thousands of items that have not been able to lapse into public domain because of Disney (and Sonny Bono)’s efforts. Things owned by dead people, people who don’t care, etc. Movies that will never be released in any true legal and valid capacity if this is allowed to continue.

      • Oliver

        Mickey porn?

        Does DarylT realise there’s been Mickey porn out there in the world (albeit illegally) since the ‘Tijuana Bibles’ of the 1930s?

        Mickey porn, Mickey porn, Mickey porn!!!

        Ooh, sorry DarylT, I don’t know what came over me. Other than Mickey porn of course.

        Who cares what the Founding Fathers thought of copyright? Clearly America’s greatest challenge today is stopping…

        Mickey porn!!!

  • George

    From a movie fan’s point of view, public domain is a mixed blessing. On one hand, being in the public domain makes a movie much more widely available, both online and on DVD. On the other hand, so many of the public domain releases out there look like crap, since being in the public domain doesn’t require the owners of the original negatives to make those available to anyone. So what usually gets used as masters for public domain releases can often be traced back to 1980s VHS tapes, which were themselves often sourced from 16mm dupes.

    • James

      True. In terms of film, public domain only really helps properties that remain popular and well known. More obscure properties tend to get get heavily neglected and fall victim to bargain-bin operations if not complete neglect.

      RKO, Paramount, Universal, and Fox short subjects (outside of some cartoon properties) are the most noticeable example of film properties. Compared to any licensed short subjects, far less are preserved or given restoration and have a far lower OCN survival rate.

      Even some properties one would expect to have some care done to them, like the PD Abbot & Costello films or PD Bob Hope films, have a tendency to look very shabby compared to copyrighted product along with more well-known feature films like “One-Eyed Jacks”.

      Unlike, say a book which can be preserved in print indefinitely and cheaply, pre-digital film is in constant need of preservation and many are in need of costly and expensive restoration and preservation efforts. Copyright holders generally have the capital to fund such endeavors because the copyrighted films are assets of the company.

      Public Domain features tend to rely on non-profit organizations to fund preservation and restoration. Relative to the amount of film currently in the public domain, few actually get restored and preservation is limited to the abilities of private collectors and private institutions. Big companies only get involved if they happen to possess the OCN or if there is a linking franchise (i.e Fleischer’s Superman)

      Not saying the public domain is bad or is black & white. Some copyright holders can be fairly negligent of their own film or TV libraries and may be better off in the hands of non-profit institutions. Just that public domain vs copyright from a film preservation POV is a pretty grey area.

      • amid

        The NY TIMES cites the common estimate that “90 percent of all American silent films and 50 percent of American sound films made before 1950 appear to have vanished forever.” This highlights the simple truth that the vast majority of copyright holders don’t care about the work they produce. Lengthening copyright terms only serves to discourage people from saving our collective culture.

      • James

        True, however that is more an issue with silent films themselves vs talking pictures. NOBODY cared about silent films from the of talking pictures up until the revivals of the late-50s and 60s. The backlash towards silents was severe and has since been unprecedented. Film stock was simply considered disposable product once public interest dried up, silent films were the most unsellable of them all. Talkies could at least be reviveable in the 30s and 40s, though pre-code features would need new MPAA approval.

        Preservation was not taken seriously up until that time period. Studios and various holding companies allowed their nitrate negatives to degrade. Public domain features didn’t fare any better, which mostly consisted of silent features. Private collectors were much less common and film by-and-large was just considered entertainment and not of artistic value until later years. Remember, it wasn’t until Joseph Burstyn, Inc v. Wilson in 1951 that the Supreme Court granted motion pictures 1st Amendment rights as free speech.

        The film of Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd silents survived due to their own personal affection for those films combined with their copyright ownership. Silents made within United Artists also appear to have a much higher survival rate for similar reasons, despite being copyrighted for many years.

        Buster Keaton, owning the sole surviving prints of many of his comedies w/o copyright, still almost lost “The Boat” to nitrate damage. He had apparently abandoned the films when he sold his villa conceding in the belief that no one was interested in them. It was only through the efforts of private collector and preservationist Raymond Rohauer that they were able to be transferred to safety stock after the volatile nitrates had been discovered.

        Mary Pickford is also known to have contemplating destroying her silent features in the 1930s due to how much silent films had dated in the public mind since talkies before being convinced otherwise.

        Still, silent features are an interesting exception. While present studios preserve silent features under their copyright, they are rarely presented for public consumption. Restoration and preservation of PD silents have made great strides in upcoming years likely owing to the rarity of these unique film.

        However, there are still others that would have possibly benefited more by not being PD. The silent PD Our Gang shorts for instance had been copied and re-copied for decades by cheap television distributors and chopped up to remove at least 1/3 of their original footage and inter titles. While some attempts had been made in the past to preserve complete prints or reconstruct shorts for various fragments and TV prints, it currently seems too little, too late for some.

  • merlin jones

    >>…Though Disney does a good job of making its library available to the public (with the obvious exception of Song of The South) other studios, unaware of any value these assets may yield, vault and abuse their older animated shorts still under copyright protection…<<

    While the Disney animated features are readily available to the public through various media on an ongoing basis, not so the majority of shorts, which are no longer shown on TV or cable (in uncut form, anyway) and which in recent years have been offered on DVD only in limited special editions aimed at collectors and not to the broad market, with most of those volumes long out-of-print.

    Worse, woefully few of the Walt-era TV library programs with original animated material (anthology compilations, the "Mickey Mouse Club" shorts, Ludwig VonDrake, Ranger Woodlore, Jiminy Cricket, etc.), etc., have been released on DVD at all, nor are they shown on television or available for download, nor does there seem to be any energy toward making these shows accessible in the near future.

    As demand winnows with time and suffers from lack of re-introduction of these works to new generations, those films could become even more scarce in the future, as corporations become hesitant to reinvest in even a new digital master, let alone full restoration, preservation and exploitation.

    In the case of "Song of the South", this could be the prime example of why copyright extension should be a "use it or lose it" proposition for rights holders. Why should commercial exploitation of historic works be virtually abandoned for decades, yet still protected?

    Intellectual property and art assets should be made available to the public on at least a cyclical basis, and in well-cared for, pristine form, as an obligation of ownership and proof that there is still a commercial interest to be protected.

    • James

      Disney did a pretty good job with their animated library. They are clearly being preserved and the DVDs were being sold widely at retail store (at least until DVD sales dried up).

      The collections were also surprisingly comprehensive, even showcasing highly un-PC shorts that had never previously been televised, if ever–a rare move for Disney. They even released every Silly Symphony.

      One complaint is that Disney actually didn’t attempt to restore Volume 2 of Donald Duck, a decision that has yet to be rectified. I should hope that those shorts had since been digitally restored since then.

      What the current Disney company has really been slacking on are their forays into live-action Hollywood films. Home video has been quite spotty and there appears to be little momentum in restoring or preserving any but the AAA perennial classics such as 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Treasure Island, The Love Bug, etc. Their recent blu-ray of “The Color of Money” was a travesty.

      Not sure if I’d lump “Song of the South” in there, however. There have been reports of preservation work being done on that title. Even though a home video release isn’t coming, the film itself isn’t being neglected.

  • John

    I understand the idea of public domain, and I understand how it can be a good thing. But honestly, I do not understand people who argue *against* copyright protection, as though protecting intellectual property is some kind of moral offense against humanity.

    Y’know who would’ve like a little copyright protection and intellection property rights defense? A couple o’ guys named Jerry Seigel and Joe Shuster.

    • Sarah J

      I don’t think anyone here is arguing against the idea of intellectual property. But a lot of them do think that intellectual property rights should expire after some period of time. Personally I think that should especially be the case for works where the people who worked on them are all dead. Seriously, why should executives at a big company get complete control over a work they didn’t contribute to, and may not have even been born when it came out?

  • PeterK

    think about this. the now classic movie “It’s a wonderful life” didn’t become a classic until it went out of copyright. once out of copyright it was played on thousands of TV stations getting more viewers than when it was originally released

    “I persoanlly think public domain is a ridiculous idea. I wouldn’t like it if was something I created. ”

    the original intent by the founding fathers was that an inventor or writer or whomever would be able to make a profit from the work through exclusivity, but once that was over others could build upon. If not for the existence of public domain publishers like Dover would not be able to produce what they do.

    “so many of the public domain releases out there look like crap, ”
    only because the original copyright holder doesn’t bother to continue issuing top quality releases which would negate the cr*p

  • Gray64

    Okay…this would indeed result in making a corporation richer, but that seems a neutral point when considering the ramifications of this. Disney Studios created the films in question, so by any stretch of the imagination the films belong to them. To me, that seems just, just as it would for a film created by Joe Nobody. If they wanted to keep their catalog off the market, that’d be their right (but as it happens, it isn’t what they want). The public doesn’t have the right to stuff just because they want it.
    Anybody remember all the crap done to “It’s a Wonderful Life” until it’s copyright was renewed? Edited versions, colorized versions, bowdlerized versions, etc.
    And it’s not JUST about making the corporation richer; it’s also about maintaining control of material that bears your name.

    • Sarah J

      But one thing you can argue is that, with many of the older Disney works, nobody currently working at Disney had contributed to it. It wasn’t Disney Studios that created the film, it was the many artists and writers and story leads and more. Everything in the movie came from them, and they’re all dead. Is it really fair for one to claim intellectual copyright on something he had no part in creating?