We’ve written plenty of times about the importance of the public domain around here, and one of the biggest beneficiaries of the public domain has been Disney, a company which has regularly mined the public domain for the stories it then recreates and copyrights. Of course, somewhat depressingly, Disney also has been one of the most extreme players in keeping anything new out of the public domain, as pointed out by Tom Bell’s excellent “mickey mouse curve” showing how Disney has sought to push out the term of copyrights every time Mickey Mouse gets near the public domain.
All this despite the fact that Mickey Mouse was almost certainly was an infringing work when it was created, copying multiple sources that were still covered by copyright. Oh, and also there’s evidence that Disney screwed up its early copyright registrations on Mickey Mouse, suggesting that it really already is in the public domain, even if Disney will never admit that.
Either way, as we get closer to the next attempt to extend copyright terms in the US (and you know it’s coming), Derek Khanna has decided to crowdsource a list of all of the public domain works that Disney has relied on over the years. He’s also looking for revenue figures on all of those works, in an attempt to show just how much Disney has profited off of the public domain (and hopefully to shut up those who argue that when a work falls into the public domain, it suddenly loses its value). As Khanna notes:
While Disney took and reused from the public domain, none of the works created by Disney, including derivative works based upon public domain works, have entered the public domain for others to build upon. And if current policy is extended — they never will.
MPAA/RIAA/Disney lobby Congress and inform the public that copyright should last forever because it’s their “property” and that it’s never ok to use or build upon their property without paying. Under the content industry’s vernacular, if taking and remixing other people’s work without paying for it is always stealing then the Disney Corporation is responsible for one of the greatest thefts in world history.
If you can, please help and contribute to the list of public domain works that Disney has relied upon.
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