Commentary on Copyright Extension
by Jim Slotek, November 1, 1998
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By JIM SLOTEK -- ALT.ENT
It's amazing some of the things that are able to fly under the U.S. media radar, once that radar is jammed with Monica-Monica-Monica-Monica-cigars-are-not-really-sex-lyin'-about-it-impeach- him-squawk!
One of those quiet little news items -- insignificant really, you shouldn't bother your little head about it -- was the passing through the Senate and Congress last week of an amendment to copyright law, which now awaits only the President's signature (when his hands are free). Said amendment, lobbied for primarily by Disney, extends personal and corporate copyrights by 20 years.
What it means is that Disney, which was to lose control of Mickey Mouse in the year 2003, has been granted a reprieve until 2023.
Thank the Lord for all that is right and good in the world, what it really means is that Disney's getting (as Carl Sagan would have said) "mm-billions and mm-billions" of dollars that otherwise would have slipped through Michael Eisner's fingers and would have landed in the hands of unshaven bootleg T-shirt vendors (who'll now have to go back to squeegeeing and panhandling where they belong).
It would be easier to get in the spirit of the party and pop a few champagne corks on Pleasure Island if (a) anybody who actually sweated over creating Mickey for the 1928 film Steamboat Willie ever saw any dough for it, or (b) if Disney weren't such zealots about protecting their Mouse ears that they'd bust schoolchildren who'd drawn Mickey in posters for their school fairs, or crack down on small bakeries that rendered the Mouse crudely in icing on a cake.
And so it would be with a large grin and no small amount of schadenfreude that we would watch as Mickey skittered through the legal mousehole and ended up unlicensed on:
- The faces of cheap Taiwanese watches;
- G-strings at some of our finer peeler emporiums;
- Those $1.98 mousetraps at Home Depot;
- Car air fresheners;
- Malt liquor;
- Head shop paraphernalia;
- Feminine hygiene products.
All of which are only slightly cheesier than the stuff Disney slaps its Mickey logo on now.
So why should megacorps hand over their golden geese after four score or so years have passed in the first place? As the Sun's lawyer Alan Shanoff explains -- patiently as always -- "The theory is that the law gives you something and you have to give something back. The law gives you a monopoly and protects that monopoly, and after an allotted time you have to pay society back for that service."
Not Disney, though. When the time came to abide by the rules, they simply sought to change the rules -- something you can do in a country that boasts of its legislative checks and balances (ie: a cheque for one billion dollars balances off one million votes).
In fact, in the New World Order it's hard to imagine copyright and intellectual property laws benefitting anybody whose last name isn't "Inc." or "Ltd." The concept of intellectual property brought us the disgusting spectacle of one of the heroes of rock 'n' roll, John Fogerty, having to go to court to defend himself against a charge of plagiarizing himself. To wit: The company that owned all his Creedence Clearwater tunes screamed that his song The Old Man Down The Road sounded too much like Run Through The Jungle. (Fogerty was found not guilty, proving sanity is not dead).
On another occasion, NBC was so spiteful about losing David Letterman to CBS that it invoked "intellectual property" to force a whimsical and harmless old man named Calvert DeForest to stop using the name Larry "Bud" Melman.
And one of my heroes of science, the extreme-personality geneticist/surfer Karey Mullis could go into the Guinness Book for worst hosing in the name of "intellectual property." He won a Nobel for inventing something called polymerase chain reaction (PCR), a way to replicate large amounts of DNA from infinitesimal amounts of DNA. Since 1986, PCR has literally changed the world -- making possible DNA fingerprinting, cloning and the plot of Jurassic Park and all its sequels.
The lab he worked for gave Mullis a $10,000 bonus for this. It later sold the patent, which it owned by dint of being generous enough to hire the guy, for a reported half billion dollars.