This week, Disney decided to sue one of the world’s leading DJs, Deadmau5, as the electronic producer’s signature performance head-piece, known as the ‘mau5head’, resembled Disney’s Mickey Mouse. Deadmau5′ iconic head piece has been used thoroughly throughout his career, which began in the mid-1990s.
The current copyright laws are recognised practically worldwide under the Berne Convention in 1886. Over 150 countries signed the convention, which requires the signatory countries to recognise author’s works from other signatory countries. Although the US did not sign into the convention until the late 1950s, copyright and subsequent copyright laws were nonetheless governed.
Disney is well known for their near-extortionate use of Copyright law to eliminate any type or form of creativity that borrows any Disney element. It is therefore a little contradictory considering many of Disney’s successful films could be considered as copyright infringement. In 1928, Disney released the iconic Steamboat Willie; one of the first cartoons that depict the infamous Mickey Mouse.
However, as Lessig claims, the whole idea of the cartoon was based on the 1928 silent film, Steamboat Bill, Jr. by Buster Keaton (2004). Lessig continues, stating at the time such an act, what is considered now a blatant and extreme example of copyright infringement, was perfectly legal (2004). During the 1920s of America, copyright law only extended to 30 years before being released to the public domain. This essentially allowed any works of creativity that were older than this period able to be modified, adapted or recreated without paying royalties to the author. Even though Disney’s Steamboat Willie and Keaton’s Steamboat Bill, Jr. were released in the same year, this practice was normal at the time (Lessig 2014). The same is extended to many of Disney’s feature films, such as Aladdin, Pocahontas and The Little Mermaid, which have their origins based in tales from various cultures and traditions.
Since this period, the laws regarding copyright law and infringement have become far stricter and, as a result, restricting the creative access of artists and authors. Currently, the laws in the US restrict any works from entering the public domain until 70 years after the death of the author. These laws, which are solely protecting many of the big labels and producers such as Disney whose works are slowly finding there way towards the public domain on their copyright timeline.
Lessig, L 2004, Creators. In Free Culture: How Big Media uses Technology and the Law to Lock Down Culture and Strangle Creativity, viewed 6 September, <http://www.authorama.com/free-culture-4.html>.
Michaelson, J 2014, ‘Mickey Mouse takes Deadmau5 to court’, The Daily Beast, viewed 6 September, <http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/09/03/battle-of-the-mouses-mickey-mouse-v-deadmau5.html>
Michaelson, K 2014, Two Logos, Image, viewed 6 September, <http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/09/03/battle-of-the-mouses-mickey-mouse-v-deadmau5.html>
Copyright Service 2011, ‘International Copyright Law: The Berne Convention’, viewed 6 September, <http://www.copyrightservice.co.uk/copyright/p08_berne_convention>.
U.S Copyright Office, ‘Copyright Basics’, PFD, viewed 6 September, pp. 5 – 6, <http://www.copyright.gov/circs/circ01.pdf>.