Disney's 1998 copyright term extension expires this year and Big Content's lobbyists say they're not going to try for another one

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2018/01/08/sonny-bono-is-dead.html

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Walt Disney died in 1966, which means that in Canada and all other LIFE+50 countries, all his works have already been in the public domain for over a year now. Had an eye out for unauthorized t-shirts and such but haven’t found any yet.


Isn’t Steamboat Willie still off-limits (now and forever) due to being incorporated into the trademarked production logo for Walt Disney Animation Studios?

As works made from these public domain materials gain popularity, they will become recognizable symbols of the slow censorship of the eternal copyright, in which works that might delight us as much as Disney’s Snow White are killed before they can be born, choked out of legal sunlight by the massive canopy that Disney’s tall trees has spread overtop the fertile soil of creativity.

And thus, the “remixers and rereleasers” will be spared the appalling burden of having to come up with something new original that might delight us.

(To be fair, that’s a pretty horrible burden.)


Remixers are completely capable of making “something new original [sic] that might delight us.” As the article itself mentions, the majority of works that put Disney on the map, and (for better or for worse) delighted generations of American children, were derived from public domain folk and fairy tales.


That particular instance of use would be off-limits, but as I understand it the original formatting would lose protection. I am on the board of a small, nonprofit repertory film theater and we see this a lot. We run an all-digital rig and out of copyright films are often unavailable to us in any modern format because the remastering and processing will carry a copyright for that instance. Our very successful silent film series has issues obtaining very old films sometimes because of this. We recently showed a film that was remastered for a high-resolution format. Unfortunately, the disc didn’t arrive in time so we had to show the public domain version from the Internet Archive. Needless to say, the resolution wasn’t great and we’ve had to rethink how we source some of our older films. Even though we didn’t have to pay the distributors license, we would rather have paid for the quality, copyrighted version.

Btw, we still have and occasionally run the old projectors! Our projectionist is the youngest son of the family that bought it way back in 1949. He still comes in nightly and has done an amazing job learning the wackiness that is digital film production, especially for a nonogenarian.


Def Leppard sort of used this a few years ago to retain more control of their music. They re-recorded their “hits” note-for-note so that they could control digital sales; also, spite.

ETA: Damnit, now Here I Go Again is stuck in my head…


In general wouldn’t a simple format change of a PD work be covered by the holding in Corel v. Bridgeman Art Library that scans of PD works are NOT derivative works subject to their own copyright?

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Trademark is much narrower than copyright; the standard isn’t whether you reproduced the mark, it’s whether your reproduction would lead to confusion about the origin of a good or service.


It’s a shame that it counts as news that the US government might not get around to doing something corrupt and illegal for a second time.

Also, “censorious” continues to mean “eager to find fault”.


I suppose part of this might be the overall lack of financial incentives here.

If you think about it there aren’t a whole lot of intellectal properties from 1923 that are still current and making lots of money. Disney is one of the classic example for this sort of thing. But these days they’re making far more money of Star Wars and Marvel than Mickey Mouse. Who outside of some not terribly popular kids TV and the theme parks , doesn’t really come up all that much.

You combine that with the shorter copyright term in other major markets. And the rise of “hey let’s make a gritty reboot of X public domain charcter” style film and TV. And the math may have simply changed for these guys. Maybe it looks like there’s a lot more money to be made through unpaid access to these works than keeping all of it locked up and attempting to license or exploit them yourself.

There are exceptions or obvious big characters. But for the most part how much money is there really in a bunch of early talkies and tin pan alley tunes. These things aren’t exactly hot with the kids these days.

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Are we completely sure they didn’t tuck it into a dark, ■■■■■ fold in the new tax law? Nobody really knows what’s in there.

EDIT: Sweet! I found the secret woid!


I was confused by the URL title of this post at first but it turns out that the law that pushed back copyright expirations was sponsored by Sonny Bono then named after him when he skied into a tree - who knew that guy was a congressman!?

Lemme guess… ■■■■■?
EDIT: Got it!

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Anybody over 40?


Yeah, I guess you’re probably right because the instance I gave was of a public domain work being reproduced and the specific necessity of licensing for a public screening, whereas the Disney example is about extending the ownership of works that are still in copyright by iterating versions.

…and all the strippers rejoiced.

(side note: “Here I Go Again” is Whitesnake)


Ha, you’re right! I misremembered it as Whitesnake before I checked the article.

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Mickey Mouse, Luke Skywalker, the Mighty Thor… they’re all trademarked which means their assorted owners - let me see - Disney, Disney and oh Disney - will still retain full control of the characters for the indefinite future.

But this is good news for the thousands of lesser known, abandoned products created all those years ago.

Hell, I’m under 40 and I knew that. Besides the skiing accident, I think I think of him as a politician even before I remember his entertainment career.

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