Copyright Law: Enforcer of Big Businesses.

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 MouseDeadmau5′ iconic head piece has been used thoroughly throughout his career, which began in the mid-1990s.

(PHOTO): Disney's Mickey Mouse on the left, Deadmau5 on the right.

(PHOTO): Disney’s Mickey Mouse on the left, Deadmau5 on the right.

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, <>.

Michaelson, J 2014, ‘Mickey Mouse takes Deadmau5 to court’, The Daily Beast, viewed 6 September, <>

Michaelson, K 2014, Two Logos, Image, viewed 6 September, <>

Copyright Service 2011, ‘International Copyright Law: The Berne Convention’, viewed 6 September, <;.

U.S Copyright Office, ‘Copyright Basics’, PFD, viewed 6 September, pp. 5 – 6, <;.


5 thoughts on “Copyright Law: Enforcer of Big Businesses.

  1. It is so incredibly hypocritical of Disney to enforce such heavy copyright laws. I like that you wrote a simple piece about this hypocrisy. It’s a great example of property control, and how the rules of copyright have changed over time, and it was nice to see some visual media in there too.

    I think it could have been interesting to look at how Disney are currently behaving in regards to protecting their intellectual property. I found an interesting viewpoint on how the Disney movie, Frozen, has caused a change in nature on Disney’s behalf –

    Perhaps Disney are understanding that fandom is nourished by social media, which usually goes against the constraints of copyright laws.

  2. Well written post, and a good discussion. Using the Deadmau5 law suit example definitely makes the post timely and more engaging so well done on that! Interesting to see the changing views on copyright from Disney’s point of view, quite humorous how blatant the copyright infringement of Steamboat Willie is looking in hindsight. Maybe chuck some links in there to the references used, could be handy for the reader.

  3. You’ll have to let us all know how the court case pans out. Insightful post, I would like to see Deadmau5 get out of this untouched by the grubby money hungry hands of the Disney lawyers, but sadly I dont like his chances. It’s hard to think that in this day and age, that anything is 100% original with nothing borrowed from anywhere. I believe Cadburry chocolate have copyrighted the colour purple for their product wrappers, thats insane if you ask me. Keep up the good work.

  4. Great post! Very factual and concise. I thought you included all the necessary information regarding the contemporary case of Disney vs Deadmau5. This example was perfect in describing the increased strictness of copyright law and how loop holes in the past are being picked up nowadays. I liked how to explain what used to happen in copyright laws, these loop holes allowed creatives to be ripped off and what are the moral values of that? I would have liked to hear your opinion on the stricter laws, if you think these laws are too strict or if perhaps they should never enter the public domain after the death of the author?
    Thanks 🙂

  5. I looked at the same aspect of iFeudalism, looking at Disney v Deadmau5. This post trumps mine easily though. Very well researched and well set out. I struggled writing mine trying to word all the copyright law changes, plus Disney’s part in them, but you did it very well. Good post.

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