A selection of the best animation articles including news, opinions, and features from around the world for the week beginning the 15th of March, 2020.Read more
Baiting title aside, Mickey Mouse really is more popular than Bugs Bunny. He sells a lot more merchandise, appears in far more places around the world and is lauded as a mascot for the company that operates ‘The Happiest Place on Earth.’ Bugs never even got such opportunities and yet as a character, he is far superior to Mickey. Why is that?
Normally I don’t give Disney merchandise a second glance, mainly because they’re a dime a dozen in addition to being just about everywhere. However, these plates caught my eye recently as I was perusing the local Target.
What did it was that they’re a break from the norm with all their construction lines that are reminiscent of the centerline technique that was popular back in the 1930s. It’s something a wee bit different from the usual, sterile stuff. Anyways, enjoy!
I came across this post on the Ammoland.com website yesterday (I’m not a regular reader or anything, these things just come to my attention sometimes) which berates the fact that Disney appears to be self-censoring old Mickey Mouse cartoons. As you can naturally expect from a website like this, it concerns Mickey’s use of a gun in the classic short, Mickey’s Parrot (embedded above for convenience).
The gripe from the site itself is:
In this episode, a parrot belonging to an escaped killer wanders into Mickey’s basement. Mickey hears it talking and thinks that the parrot is the killer who is on the loose who he just heard about on the radio. Mickey then goes and grabs his double barreled shotgun off of the wall and prepares to defend himself.
Well, wouldn’t you know it… in the version they presented on the Disney Channel the other day, they had digitally removed the shotgun and replaced it with a broom. Yes, Mickey grabbed a broom off of the gun rack, shouldered it, and prepared to defend himself with his handy, dandy tactical… broom.
So, the question is, why? Why would Disney feel the need to edit out a gun in one of their cartoons? The post on Ammoland makes a heavy argument that they shouldn’t simply because it’s a false representations of guns and gun ownership. While this may be true, it still fails to account for why Disney censored their own cartoon.
Have we gotten to the point where companies will self-censor themselves to reduce the perceived problems of broadcasting their older material? I mean, we all know why Song of the South isn’t seen anymore but that is because of the very nature of the film itself, this is all to do with the a small aspect of a cartoon.
As the post itself says:
Disney cartoons from that era have featured firearms literally more times than I can count. They’ve depicted firearms in terms of being a legitimate means of self defense, as a means to take game animals, and they have shown firearms as the indispensable tool that they are for every cowboy and cowgirl of the old west. Several generations have now been brought up with Disney cartoons that have depicted firearms as an integral part of their plot, and now you are telling me that we as a society can no longer handle it?…
I mean c’mon, we’re dealing with Walt Disney here, the guy who believed that above all, his material should be suitable for anyone to watch. Heck
the first and only Disney animated feature film to get a rating higher than G was Tangled, and that only came out last year! none of the animated features to come out of his studio have seen a rating higher than PG.
I can sort of see why the company would feel the need to edit a gun out of cartoon, but that still doesn’t justify it. The idea that as a society, we are somehow “better” now or more sensitive to these kinds of things now is a fallacy. Especially for the Disney company, who seem to engage in stunts like this on the one side, but register trademarks on the term “SEAL Team 6” on the other (though later withdrawn). That sends a mixed message to just about everybody.
Literally millions of kids have grown up with cartoons depicting guns, drinking, gambling, you name it, and yet we’re not a nation of gun-toting, alcoholic gamblers. That’s because kids learn pretty quickly that cartoons are not meant to replicate real life to the extent that they serve as a role model.
It safe to assume that Disney simply jumped the gun on this one (no pun intended). Self-censorship is ultimately self-defeating, especially if it degrades the quality of the original piece, which in this case, it does.
While in Ireland this past July, we (future missus and I) made numerous trips to that mecca of price conscious, fashion-loving regular folk that is Penneys. Quite different from the American JC Penney, Penneys is the brand for retail giant Primark in Ireland and their strategy is to sell high-quality, stylish clothing at the lowest possible price.
Let’s put it this way, even in the US, I’ve struggled to find a pair of jeans for under $10 whereas Penneys sells them every day.
Besides the low, low prices Penneys also sells plenty of licensed items, including a healthy supply of animation-related clothing that was clearly selling. It was quite a surprise to see that cartoon characters on clothing is considered much more mainstream than it is here in the States; where you either accept the wall of ‘hip’ shirts that Wal-Mart/Target has to offer or you have to duck into the local Hot Topic to what they’ve got to offer.
Anyhoo, without further adieu, here’s 7 articles of clothing that I found in Penneys that any fashionable fan of animation should not be without:
1. Japanese Mickey Mouse
2. Yosemite Sam (woefully under-represented in clothing IMO)
3. Fred Flinstone
4. Spongebob Squarepants (perfect for casual Friday)
5. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (mandatory for those in the 22-28 age bracket)
6. Mickey Mouse and Betty Boop pyjamas (Betty was on many, many more items besides these PJs)
7. Lola Bunny (no sign of Bugs though)
This is the fourth and last in a series of posts that take a look at just some of the many legal aspects of the animation industry.
It’s a question that seems to lead plenty of people to this blog but the post they land on is not entirely relevant. So here, for all those people is the post they’ve been looking for.
When Will Mickey Mouse Enter the Public Domain?
The most important piece of recent legislation concerning our hero is the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act, which basically extended the period of time for which creative works are covered by copyright. The interesting thing about this act is that it has a nickname. Care to guess what it is?
How about the “Mickey Mouse Protection Act”.
Yes indeedy, but first, it’s important that we define just how Mickey is covered and in order to do that, we must first define just exactly what “Mickey” is.
Mickey Mouse and similar characters inhabit the gray area where copyright and trademarks collide. A quick and dirty explanation is as follows:
- Mickey Mouse’s films are covered by copyright
- Mickey Mouse’s design/looks are covered by copyright
- Mickey Mouse as a cartoon salesman is covered by trademarks.
Can’t tell the difference? Not to worry, that’s the purpose of this post.
Mickey Mouse is a creation, and as such his design is covered by copyright. His films are also subject to copyright in that they are expressions of the creation that is Mickey Mouse.
The distinction comes when Mickey Mouse is used as a tool to sell things. In that capacity, he is a trademark that is for the exclusive use of the Walt Disney company and anyone it licenses the character to.
Confused? Don’t worry, it will all be clear in a moment. 🙂
Why the distinction? Well, a trademark is sometimes not a creation, it can, in fact, have existed for hundreds of years. What a trademark does is extend to the owner the exclusive right to use the trademark for the business purpose that they applied for the trademark for. Sounds tricky doesn’t it?
It isn’t though. It basically means that someone setting themselves up as, say a record label called Apple is granted the privilege of being allowed to be the only record company called Apple. This is to avoid confusion in the mind of the consumer, which could result in “brand dilution”.
It does not prevent someone else from calling their company Apple and selling, say, computers. Why? Because selling records and selling computers are two completely separate market sectors that are unlikely to lead to confusion among consumers*.
Mickey Mouse is a trademark of the Walt Disney Company insofar that he acts as a salesman, mascot and calling card for the firm. Such uses are covered under trademark because they can be (and are) used by consumers to identify a particular company.
So now that we’ve established what copyright and trademarks are and the main difference between them, why are they important in the case of Mickey Mouse?
The reason is time.
You see, copyrights have term limits, trademarks do not (as long as they are actively enforced). Mickey Mouse can remain a trademark forever but his films will at some point enter into the public domain.
However, that remains to be seen:
Thanks to the lobbying muscle of Disney and its allies, U.S. copyright protection has protruded further and further into the future, from the 14 years of the first copyright law in 1790 to the 120 years of today — far beyond the lifetime of any artist.
That quote is taken from a superb article by Charles Kenny. No, not I, but a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development in Washington DC who I coincidentally happen to share the same name with. The full article is well worth a read to see how such actions by Disney and other entertainment giants are affecting the developing world in detrimental ways.
If Mickey Mouse’s films ever do enter (or are acknowledged as entering) the public domain, it will allow people to view them, edit them, remix them and so forth, it will not however, allow anyone to sell any merchandise branded as being “Mickey Mouse” merchandise. Why? Because unless they are officially sanctioned by the Walt Disney Company, they will be in breach of trademark law.
So, to answer the original question:
Mickey Mouse’s films will enter the public domain when their copyright terms expire. As of right now, that is 2020 for Steamboat Willie (barring further term extensions). As long as Disney maintains their trademark over the character, he will remain for their exclusive use indefinitely.
*As you may well be aware, when two market sectors do collide, a lawsuit results, as happened when Apple Computer launched iTunes, a breach of an agreement with Apple Corps.
I admit I kinda forgot about it as I hadn’t been in a while, but some time ago, we went to Geppi’s Entertainment Museum right in downtown Baltimore. It’s right by the baseball stadium and I was thoroughly surprised by how full it was of all kinds of memorabilia from the entertainment industry over the years (as well as all the comic books).
There was plenty of old (and new) stuff to be seen. So here is just a few of the more interesting things I came across during our visit.
Below is an excerpt from a piece posted over on Techdirt by Lloyd Kaufman on the subject of copyright, the public domain and the Founding Fathers. It’s a great post in its own right, but when it gets really interesting (for us) is when he starts talking about animation and how one company in particular seems to have been the driving force behind the various copyright extensions over the years.
It also serves as a nice preamble to an upcoming series of posts here on The Animation Anomaly dealing with the various legal dealings that animators should be aware of.
HOW MICKEY MOUSE BEAT THE SHIT OUT OF THOMAS JEFFERSON
In 1928, Mickey Mouse appeared in the first sound-synchronized cartoon, Steamboat Willie , which was a parody (in Disnenglish, a copyright infringement) of a Buster Keaton film, “Steamboat Bill, Jr.” Mickey Mouse became an instant star and Walt Disney’s meal ticket. By 1956, when “Steamboat Willie” was all set to enter the public domain, Disney had become a powerhouse corporation, and it interceded on little Mickey’s behalf:
Disney Executive: You see, Senator, if “Steamboat Willie” were to belong to the public, they would pretty much own Mickey Mouse, too. And we can’t let that happen.
Senator: No, no. We must protect Mickey.
Disney Executive: What we need, Senator, is an extension of the copyright law. That way, we can keep Mickey safe.
Senator: Yes, yes. We must protect Mickey.
Disney Executive: Yes, Senator, we must protect Mickey.
The Disney executive puts away his hypnotist materials, leaves a pile of cash on the table, and leaves. The hypnotized senator wakes up with the overwhelming urge to protect Mickey Mouse. Days later, copyright law is extended.
Buster Keaton, however, continues to receive food stamps.
This scene is repeated in 1984 and 2003. “Steamboat Willie” will remain the intellectual property of Disney until 2023, almost 100 years after it was created and many, many years after the last person who worked on it became snail food. And at some point before 2023, I’m guessing the copyright laws will be extended once again.
An interesting little twist to this whole story, which was sent to me by email@example.com, is that someone at Disney discovered in the 1990s that “Steamboat Willie” may actually be in the public domain already. This was due to a mistake in the wording of the original copyright. A law student at Arizona State University investigated this claim and agreed [article link for the curious]. Then another law student at Georgetown wrote another paper confirming the claim. At this point, Disney threatened to sue the student and the claim hasn’t been uttered since.