Opposing Copyright Extension

Commentary on Copyright Extension  

Mickey's Mine!

by Brigid McMenamin, August 23, 1999
Forbes Magazine, page 43
 


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  Law

Who will suffer if a court strikes down the Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998? Hint: not writers.

Mickey's mine!

By Brigid McMenamin

LAST FALL Congress voted to extend copyrights by 20 years. It doesn't mean much for today's creators or their heirs, who already held rights to their post-1978 works until 50 years after the creator's death. The real beneficiaries are the big media companies that own works whose 75-year copyrights were about to expire. For them, the new law means an extra 20 years of royalties (see table).

No wonder Walt Disney, whose most valuable characters were set to lapse into the public domain, devoted millions to lobbying and campaign contributions as Congress weighed the idea. So did Time Warner.

But the copyright extension runs smack up against the Constitution, which permits copyrights "to promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts." Extending existing copyrights doesn't qualify, some Harvard law professors contended in a recent federal suit in Washington, D.C. How could a windfall to a public corporation inspire an artist working today?

That view may appeal to judges rediscovering the limits of federal power ("Drawing a line in the sand," Mar. 9, 1998). If the professors win, there will be nothing happy for Time Warner about "Happy Birthday's" 75th birthday in 1999.

 

 

Righting rights?

These are some old classics that would lapse into the public domain without congressional copyright extension.

    [The original article has some nice pictures here.]
  Year Expiration
old/new
Some beneficiaries
BOOKS
   The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald
   Tender Is the Night, F. Scott Fitzgerald
   Farewell to Arms, Ernest Hemingway

1925
1934

1929

2000/2020
2009/2029
2004/2024

Fitzgerald trust (3 grandchildren); Scribner (Viacom)

Fitzgerald trust (3 grandchildren); Scribner (Viacom)
Hemingway sons; Scribner (Viacom) family has licensed use of Hemingway's name and photo to sell rugs, fabrics, picture frames, decoys, desk accessories, throw pillows, etc., inspired by his travels
MUSICALS
   Show Boat, Hammerstein, Kern & Ferber
   Porgy and Bess, Gershwin brothers, et al.

1927

1935

2002/2022

2010/2030

Composer, author estates; Universal (Seagram)

Gershwin estates; Warner/Chappel (Time Warner)
MUSIC
   Rhapsody in Blue, George Gershwin

   Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, Kern &            Harbach

   Night and Day
, Cole Porter

   Blue Skies, Irvin Berlin

   Easter Parade, Irving Berlin
   Violin Concerto No. 2, Prokofiev
   Happy Birthday, Mildred & Patty Hill



1923


1933


1932
1927

1933
1937
1924



1998/2018

2008/2028


2007/2027
2002/2022

2008/2028
2012/2032
1999/2019



Gershwin estates; Warner/Chappel (Time Warner)
lifetime revenues of more than $50 million, plus a decade in United Airlines ads.

Jerome Kern & Otto Harbach estates; Universal (Seagram)

Cole Porter estate; Warner/Chappel (Time Warner)
Berlin daughters; J.P. Morgan (executor)
recently featured in cheery TV ads for Claritin allergy medicine

Berlin daughters; J.P. Morgan (executor)
Prokofiev's heirs; Boosey & Hawkes
Association for Childhood Education; Warner/Chappel (Time Warner)
Time Warner paid $25 million for catalog to get song in 1990

MOVIES
   Gone With the Wind

    The Wizard of Oz
    Frankenstein
    Dracula


1939
 
1939

1931
1931
  
2014/2034


2014/2034
2006/2026
2006/2026
 

Turner Entertainment (Time Warner)
biggest theatrical film hit of all time, popular worldwide in virtually all cultures
Turner Entertainment (Time Warner)
Universal Pictures (Seagram)
Universal Pictures (Seagram)
CARTOONS & CHARACTERS
   Bugs Bunny, Warner Bros.
    Porky Pig, Warner Bros.
    Mickey Mouse, Walt Disney
    Winnie the Pooh
 
1940
1935
1928
1926
 
2015/2035

2010/2030
2003/2023
2001/2021
 
Time Warner

Time Warner
Walt Disney
Estates of Milne, Shephard; Dutton, Methuen and Egmont; Disney