I know a lot of moms hate Disney, and specifically the Disney Princesses, for feminist reasons. The lack of strong female role models. The helpless girl who needs to be rescued by a big, strong man. But my Disney problems started before Andy Mooney launched the Princess franchise, increasing both his consumer products division’s sales by 900% in five years and the feminist moms’ rage.
My objections started in 1998, years before my princess-loving daughter was born. That was the year of the Copyright Term Extension Act (CTEA), or as I think of it, the Oh Crap, Mickey’s Copyright Is Running Out Act.
The details of the act and potential effects if it had not been passed have been the objects of much discussion–if you’re not familiar with the story, you can read more in the references linked at the bottom of this post. What concerns me more is the actual result:
Nothing new will enter the public domain in the United States until 2019.
We just passed another Public Domain Day on January 1. That’s the day that we should celebrate everything that is entering the public domain in that year. Because of the changes to copyright laws, including the CTEA, we have nothing to celebrate for another eight years. What are you missing out on?
For literature lovers, you’re missing the ease of easily teaching from, quoting, translating, and making derivatives of anything created in or before 1954. Without the changes to copyright, the 2011 list of public domain inductees would have included Lord of the Flies, Waiting for Godot, Horton Hears a Who, and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Oh, and a couple of books I doubt any of you geeks are familiar with–The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers.
Are you a movie buff? You could be showing clips and remixing and making documentaries all you like of the movies from 1954. You’d have Hitchcock’s Rear Window, and Creature from the Black Lagoon, as well as On the Waterfront (“I coulda been a contender”), and to get back to Disney, 20000 Leagues Under the Sea.
Speaking of clips and remixes, or freely available sheet music, musicians would have had “Mambo Italiano,” as well as one of my favorites, “Mister Sandman.”
Furthermore, under the original copyright rules, you had to renew your copyright, which 85% of creators never did. And that means more than just 1954’s work. This year you’d also have had 85% of 1982’s work.
But I understand if you’re not convinced yet. Read my “Theft! A History of Music” series to see how sharing and derivation are critical to the history of creativity. It’s from a music perspective, but the principle applies across the arts.
Disney itself relies on that principle. It’s hardly a secret, but since it’s Princess Week at GeekMom, let’s look at the origins of those lovely ladies.
|Snow White||Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, 1937||Brothers Grimm, 19th century|
|Cinderella||Cinderella, 1950||Brothers Grimm, 19th century|
|Aurora||Sleeping Beauty, 1959||Brothers Grimm, 19th century|
|Ariel||The Little Mermaid, 1989||Hans Christian Andersen, 1837|
|Belle||Beauty and the Beast, 1991||La Belle et la Bête, 18th century|
|Jasmine||Aladdin, 1992||The Book of One Thousand and One Nights, 1710 translation volume|
OK, you’re still not convinced. I get it. Putting Tolkien out there makes you too nervous to eat your second breakfast, much less elevenses. Perhaps I can convince you on the grounds of preservation. Film is particularly a problem, as the old types are physically degrading. They’re also often orphan works, covered by a seemingly neverending copyright, but without a known owner. And the law prevents them from being copied or used, even to duplicate them for the sake of saving them. According to the Center for the Public Domain, these orphan works include approximately 6,500 films at the Museum of Modern Art, as well as many of the 150,000 films at the Library of Congress and 46,000 at the UCLA Film and Television Archive. Thousands of documentaries, newsreels, and other productions that are soon to be lost to history forever.
Copyright–and artists’ rights, if you’re in doubt–are both important to me. And that, not the potential psychological damage of the Princesses, are why I cringed when my daughter came home from day care at the age of two pronouncing her love for The Mouse, followed shortly by her adoration of Ariel and Cinderella. However, and this may surprise you, even I have bent. For Christmas this year, I bought her Rapunzel, the last of the Princesses. But have no fear–she’ll be a teenager by the time anything enters the public domain again, much more able to understand mom’s feelings on the issue. Maybe you and your geeklings can join us for a real celebration in 2019–just don’t show up wearing your vintage Disney Princess gear.
- The public domain black hole (My own post on the subject)
- What could have been entering the public domain in 2011?
- Copyright Timeline: A history of copyright in the United States
- Wikipedia: Copyright Term Extension Act
The following are older stories, still informative, but read them in the context of the timeline.