Thursday, June 08, 2006

Der Zauberlehrling

was the first thing that came to mind at five this morning, as I woke to NPR News announcing the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Actually, what came to mind was Disney’s Fantasia, in which Mickey Mouse plays the part of the apprentice. (If it is too early in the morning for you to understand why that particular scene came to mind, just cast Zarqawi in the role of the broom.)

Publishers and “content creators” (otherwise known as writers and artists) have been skirmishing over lately, and at least part of the controversy stems from changes to US copyright law that came about as a result of lobbying by Disney. The company wanted essentially perpetual rights to exploit the value of its “intellectual property,” specifically anything and everything having to do with Mickey Mouse. This is, of course, a perversion of the purpose of copyright as originally conceived by the Founding Fathers. The law as it stands gives all the rights and power to corporations to protect their rights but does little or nothing to protect the rights of the individual human beings who create new works in the first place and completely subverts the rights of the public (that’s you and I) to deconstruct and reuse work imaginatively after a decent interval.

As a consequence, clips from Fantasia will not be seen on newscasts today. The irony, of course, is that Disney, in this case as in so many others, exploited material on which copyright had expired (the Dukas music and the Goethe poem) so as not to have to pay royalties. Had the current copyright law been in effect when Fantasia was made, I wonder whether old Walt could have gotten permission to use the material the way he did.

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