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Copy Rights and Wrongs

May 29th, 2007 · 2 Comments · Books, Culture, Film, History, Law, Lit, Video

This way-clever video, which I found on YouTube, uses short snips from various animated Disney films to provide an entertaining education on the nature of copyright, fair use, and the public domain.

The daunting reality is that copyright has way gotten out of control in recent years — where once upon a time copyright lasted a mere 14 years, these days U.S. copyright lasts 70 years after the artist’s death, and powerful corporate copyright holders like Disney are allowed to extend their copyrights 20 years at a time, on and on into infinity.

Which in turn starves the public domain and strangles the creation of new art, since artists always draw from the work of artists who’ve gone before them — whether it’s Shakespeare basing his plays on stories from Holinshed’s Chronicles, or John Lennon turning a backwards Beethoven chord progression into Abbey Road’s “Because.”

And as the video makes clear, Disney’s role in stifling this process is ironic given that so much of their copyrighted work is based on public domain fairy tales.

Related: From the February 2007 Harper’s, Jonathan Lethem does more or less the same thing in text: He creates a marvelous dissertation on copyright and the nature of the artistic commons, cobbled together entirely from fair use bits of other writers’ texts. It reads seamlessly, and it does a great job of explaining exactly why a healthy and growing public domain is essential to a thriving creative culture — while dramatically demonstrating the very process he’s discussing.

I thought about quoting a little bit of it, but instead I’m just going to say — go read the whole thing. (Get yourself a cup of tea or coffee first. It’s long but very rewarding.)


2 Comments so far ↓

  • Aaron

    Walt Disney–the double-standard bearer of all things copyright. My favorite story was the one about his wanting to use Stravinsky’s music in “Fantasia,” and when Stravinsky balked, saying the music was copyrighted, Disney responded that it was a Russian copyright and “doesn’t mean shit in America.”

    Kind of ironic, isn’t it?

  • Bridget

    Great video. Talk about hitting a bear with a stick. Contrarian Time–Mark Helprin, in the New York Times, took a much different take on the copyright issue. He stated that we (as writers and other creative people) and our heirs are getting screwed by the “70 years after our
    death” rule. He uses the analogy of family-owned land. Imagine, he says, a family owning property and that family being kicked off the land 70 years after the buyer bought the land. I think he’s right in the sense that our novels, songs, inventions, et cetera, go into the public domain but don’t really serve the public. In our capitalist system, someone still gets money. The publishing house still gets the money for the novel that is available for public use. Ah, the man!