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  1. #1

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    Whose Mouse it it anyway?

    Disney's rights to young Mickey Mouse may be wrong

    Film credits from the 1920s reveal imprecision in copyright claims that some experts say could invalidate Disney's long-held copyright.

    By Joseph Menn
    Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
    August 22, 2008

    He is the world's most famous personality, better known in this country than anyone living or dead, real or fictional. Market researchers say his 97% recognition rate in the U.S. edges out even Santa Claus.

    He is the one -- and, for now, only -- Mickey Mouse.

    As Mickey turns 80 this fall, the most beloved rodent in show business is widely regarded as a national treasure. But he is owned lock, stock and trademark ears by the corporate heirs of his genius creator, Walt Disney.

    Brand experts reckon his value to today's Walt Disney Co.. empire at more than $3 billion. Acts of Congress have extended Mickey's copyright so long that they provoked a Supreme Court challenge, making Mickey the ultimate symbol of intellectual property.

    All signs pointed to a Hollywood ending with Disney and Mickey Mouse living happily ever after -- at least until a grumpy former employee looked closely at fine print long forgotten in company archives.

    Film credits from the 1920s revealed imprecision in copyright claims that some experts say could invalidate Disney's long-held copyright, though a Disney lawyer dismissed that idea as "frivolous."

    Although studio executives are not yet hurling themselves from the parapets of Sleeping Beauty's castle, the unexpected discovery raises an intriguing question: Is it possible that Mickey Mouse now belongs to the world -- and that his likeness is usable by anybody for anything?

    For the record, any knock-offs would have to make clear that they did not come from Disney, or else risk violating the separate laws that protect trademarks. And the potentially free Mickey is not the most current or familiar version of the famous mouse.

    Copyright questions apply to an older incarnation, a rendition of Mickey still recognizable but slightly different. Original Mickey, the star of the first synchronized sound cartoon, "Steamboat Willie," and other early classics, had longer arms, smaller ears and a more pointy nose.

    The notion that any Mickey Mouse might be free of copyright restrictions is about as welcome in the Magic Kingdom as a hag with a poisoned apple. Yet elsewhere, especially in academia, the idea has attracted surprising support.

    "That 'Steamboat Willie' is in the public domain is easy. That's a foregone conclusion," said copyright scholar Peter Jaszi of American University's Washington College of Law after studying the issue at The Times' request.

    The issue has been chewed over by law students as class projects and debated by professors. It produced one little-noticed law review article: a 23-page essay in a 2003 University of Virginia legal journal that argued "there are no grounds in copyright law for protecting" the Mickey of those early films.

    Roger Schechter, a George Washington University expert on copyright, called the article's argument "a plausible, solid, careful case." By contrast, a Disney lawyer once threatened the author with legal action for "slander of title" under California law. No suit was filed.
    http://www.latimes.com/

  2. #2

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    Re: Whose Mouse it it anyway?

    Say what?!!

    **shudders at the possible implications**

  3. #3

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    Re: Whose Mouse it it anyway?

    I agree with "pinto colvig", and add this
    Last edited by disneyfan07; 08-24-2008 at 08:40 PM.

  4. #4

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    Re: Whose Mouse it it anyway?

    Since Disney has taken a lot of stuff from the Public Domain, it is about time that Disney has to play by the same rules, and actually give up something.
    Check out my Theme Park Photos at http://darkbeer.smugmug.com

  5. #5

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    Re: Whose Mouse it it anyway?

    Quote Originally Posted by Darkbeer View Post
    Since Disney has taken a lot of stuff from the Public Domain, it is about time that Disney has to play by the same rules, and actually give up something.
    Like giving up Mickey Mouse? Seems a bit harsh. What pilfering from the public domain by Disney would justify such a severe action? "Payback's a bitch" doesn't sound like a valid legal argument to me.

    I don't know the intricate details of copyright and trademark law, but it seems to me that any piece of intellectual property still so closely associated with and used by its original owner (even an early version of it) should not be lost to public domain. The original laws were written without any concept that someone's idea/symbol/icon could last this long as a viable product.
    Last edited by disneytim; 08-25-2008 at 04:11 PM.

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    Re: Whose Mouse it it anyway?

    From the article....

    http://www.latimes.com/business/la-f...580,full.story


    Ironically, the company has mounted international efforts to claim some characters for the public domain -- such as Bambi and Peter Pan -- even as it defends Mickey Mouse. Many of Disney's most famous figures were the creations of others, including Cinderella, Pinocchio, Pooh and Snow White, though it has vigorously protected its depictions of them.

    In such battles, Disney has been known to employ arguments every bit as arcane as anything raised against it by Brown.

    Take the saga of Bambi, by Austrian Felix Salten. The story of the fawn was first published in Germany in 1923 without a formal copyright notice, which wasn't required there. Three years later, Salten republished it with a notice.

    In the 1930s, Salten's rights were assigned to Disney, which made the famous 1942 movie. When Salten's heirs renewed the copyright in 1954, they correctly listed 1926 as the year of Bambi's first copyright.

    But in a 1994 dispute over royalties with a small publisher that had acquired the Salten family's rights, Disney lawyers said the 1954 copyright was void because it was filed three years too late -- based on the fact that the story was first published in 1923. A federal judge sided with Disney, ruling Bambi was in the public domain.

    Though that finding was reversed on appeal, the legal ordeal bankrupted the publisher
    So yes, the "First" version of Mickey, the one with longer arms, smaller ears and a more pointy nose should be out in the Public Domain.

    And one more quote from the LA Times news article...


    Meisinger, the former general counsel, is now a Los Angeles County judge. Asked about the Hedenkamp article in an interview in his chambers, Meisinger gave an instant nod of recognition but ignored an invitation to take up the argument again.

    "Everything has to fall into the public domain sometime," he said, then headed back to court.

    Check out my Theme Park Photos at http://darkbeer.smugmug.com

  7. #7

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    Re: Whose Mouse it it anyway?

    Quote Originally Posted by Darkbeer View Post
    So yes, the "First" version of Mickey, the one with longer arms, smaller ears and a more pointy nose should be out in the Public Domain.
    Regardless of what Disney based their argument on (which they had every right to choose), the ruling on the copyright renewal of Bambi was later reversed. This could actually support Disney's claim to Mickey Mouse if the reversal was made as a rejection of the arcane, ambiguous copyright laws of the time.

    Disney plays by the same rules that everyone else does in a court of law. They just have greater resources to fight with. Don't hate the player. Hate the game.
    Last edited by disneytim; 08-25-2008 at 01:23 PM.

  8. #8

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    Re: Whose Mouse it it anyway?

    Quote Originally Posted by Darkbeer View Post
    Since Disney has taken a lot of stuff from the Public Domain, it is about time that Disney has to play by the same rules, and actually give up something.
    Darkbeer!?! Say its not so, I thought you loved Disney! Do you really want Mickey to fall into the hands of the twisted people out there that want to make weird Mickey and Minnie Porno's, sick t-shirts with Mickey shooting up heroin, stabbing little kids, or cause the iconic character to do other terrible things that your kids or my kids may come upon and wonder why their beloved pal Mickey has gone from delighting them in their dreams to horrifying them in their nightmares!?!! The sky is the limit for what people will do to the character once they get their hands on him.

  9. #9

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    Re: Whose Mouse it it anyway?

    if the only "witness" if you will in the scenario is no longer with the company, and in the article what is not stated whether or not the "character research" was done when he was working with the company or when he retired, the powers at be (him, of course) and the courts do not have a leg to stand on. Disney wins (hopefully ) by default, if not, the character of mickey mouse, in addition to all rights to not just him but walt disneys name and likeness and the company itself should be rightfully in the hands of the Disney (and miller) families.

  10. #10

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    Re: Whose Mouse it it anyway?

    I have already seen t-shirts with a street-looking Mickey on it, and it was the vintage version, the one in question. So maybe other folks are noticing the possibilities....
    "The only weapon against reality is your imagination."

  11. #11

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    Re: Whose Mouse it it anyway?

    Quote Originally Posted by BrerBrian View Post
    Darkbeer!?! Say its not so, I thought you loved Disney! Do you really want Mickey to fall into the hands of the twisted people out there that want to make weird Mickey and Minnie Porno's, sick t-shirts with Mickey shooting up heroin, stabbing little kids, or cause the iconic character to do other terrible things that your kids or my kids may come upon and wonder why their beloved pal Mickey has gone from delighting them in their dreams to horrifying them in their nightmares!?!! The sky is the limit for what people will do to the character once they get their hands on him.
    Great post. The only thing standing in the way of a flood of porno sadist Mickey, generated for a few easy shock dollars, is this copyright.

  12. #12

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    Re: Whose Mouse it it anyway?

    I know this presents a slippery slope, but it's an early version of Mickey. If the legal details add up, Disney shouldn't get an exception or special deal in this case.

  13. #13

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    Re: Whose Mouse it it anyway?

    Quote Originally Posted by BrerBrian View Post
    Darkbeer!?! Say its not so, I thought you loved Disney! Do you really want Mickey to fall into the hands of the twisted people out there that want to make weird Mickey and Minnie Porno's, sick t-shirts with Mickey shooting up heroin, stabbing little kids, or cause the iconic character to do other terrible things that your kids or my kids may come upon and wonder why their beloved pal Mickey has gone from delighting them in their dreams to horrifying them in their nightmares!?!! The sky is the limit for what people will do to the character once they get their hands on him.
    I hope I never see that in my lifetime!

  14. #14

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    Re: Whose Mouse it it anyway?

    This is an interesting story. As much as I'd hate to see knock-off versions of Mickey out there, it is harmful to other businesses for copyrights to never expire and nothing in the public domain to be considered safe.

    However, Disney has millions available to defend Mickey. So, even it someone was right in using an early Mickey image, Disney would probably just fight them endlessly until they were bankrupt (much like they did to the heir of the Winnie the Pooh estate).

    Disney is a very powerful company. They shouldn't have much problem keeping would be mouse nappers at bay.
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    Re: Whose Mouse it it anyway?

    I agree with the sentiment of not being able to see a future of the company with out mickey mouse. I mean, mickey mouse was walts creation. dont you think that the family, heck the company, would have and probably did, fight with everything they had, to keep from losing him?????


    and will still fight to keep the mickster?????

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