What if Disney owned the Rights to Shakespeare or Why current copyright law… fails.

I love Archive.Org.

It is just, I think, a brilliant resource for uploading, downloading, and preserving the history of mass media.

That said there are some scumbags, content trolls, that have nothing better to do than flag any movie, audio, text that gets posted. I mean, get a real job/life. The ad nauseum copyright extensions that recent law allows any corporate goon to get away with, extending copyright from the very reasonable 50 years, to now 75 years at the minimum really puts at risk things such as a cultural identity.

Some concepts, if they are strong enough, endure enough, then by virtue of time they become part of the popular lexicon, part of the gestalt, and as such become everyone’s stories, become public domain.

This is why anyone can do an Edgar Allen Poe Adaptation, or a Robin Hood or Camelot film, or Hercules, or Shakespeare, etc; because these concepts became part of the larger conversation.

And we as a society, a global society, are the better for these concepts being able to be interpreted by future generations in diverse ways through diverse mediums. And more, creators can use these properties without being priced out of the game or paying exorbitant licensing fees to greedy conglomerates, gate-keepers, that 99.9% of the time had NOTHING TO DO with the creation of the properties they have bought up and put under lock and key.

Realistically ‘Mickey Mouse’ should no longer be under copyright, ‘Super Man’ should not be under copyright, ‘Batman’ should not be under copyright, ‘Captain America’ should not be under copyright, ‘The Shadow’ should not be under copyright. Half the creations of the 20th century should not be under copyright.

Copyright was designed for 50 years to allow the creator (the creator, an individual, not a corporation) to make sole income from this creation for that period, and after that period that creation would enter the public domain.

Not saying the creator can’t still use and profit from that character, but saying that after 50 years if that character/concept is still in the language, if as nothing more than a catchphrase, as Superman is used in songs, then it has outgrown the confines of sole ownership, and has become part of the larger cultural conversation and the global language, and anyone should be able to use that concept.

Public domain contains the idea that concepts are a living, changing thing, that require liberty to continue that process of evolving and being valid to new generations.

But no, instead corporations have bent over our congress repeatedly, and now you have the idea of public domain as an inconvenience that can be sidestepped and denied by corporations by ever more egregious extensions.

I think that’s wrong. Just as wrong as allowing corporations to have more say in a nation than its citizens. As wrong as allowing corporations to lobby our congress and have laws passed as if they were the people of a nation, rather than what they, unchecked, too often are… the parasites.

My considered opinion on Copyright? After its set run, formerly 50 years, copyright should not be extended.

No extensions. Particularly not for corporations. Not for Disney. Not for Time Warner.

Again this is not saying Disney can’t continue to use Mickey Mouse, or Time Warner can’t continue to use Superman, it just says that anyone else can use that concept as well. And I would argue the world is incredibly richer for the ‘Greek’ myths not being under corporate lock and key, for ‘wild west’ myths not being under corporate lock and key, Shakespeare not being under corporate lock and key.

Let’s consider that for a moment, take that one public domain writer… Shakespeare, and remove him from public domain.

If you think about how many plays, tv shows, movies, books, songs, would just not exist if you had to a/ get approval to use the characters and b/pay exorbitant licensing fees to use the concepts… it beggars the imagination. How much poorer the last century would have been, if say Shakespeare’s plays were owned by Disney.

(And Disney is going to be my example this post. I like Pixar movies as much as the next guy, but under the guise of a family friendly company, Disney seems to be a source of multiple and pervasive isms.)

I would say there are very few dramatic films or tv shows that don’t, in some point in their run, reference or do a pastiche on Shakespeare.

Because, say it with me, it is part of our cultural language.

But if Disney owned Shakespeare you can say goodbye to Branagh being able to come up with the licensing fees to ever do Henry the Vth. Say goodbye to Shakespeare college plays, or heck Shakespeare taught in schools at all… without some major payola/licensing being required.

I mean heck, just getting a single blues song (written by a Black blues player a hundred years ago who died broke, but since owned by a mercenary corporation, that is making millions off of something they didn’t create) to use for 3 minutes in a film, can end up costing you easily tens of thousands of dollars. How much more would getting access to Hamlet or Henry the Vth cost?

Too much is the answer. It would cost us too much.

Just think a bit about how much more limited a nation, a world, we would be, with just that one writer removed from public domain. How terribly robbed we would be, if the laws back then, mirrored the laws now.

All I’m saying is be aware of what these companies are prepared to do, the lengths they are prepared to go, to make one penny more, to survive one day more. And my thing is… nothing is meant to be forever, everything dies, and everything changes, nations come and go, movements come and go, and the works of man come and go, and we are the better for that constant change.

And perhaps as a nation and a world we would be better and stronger if corporations were stopped from abusing copyright and damaging Public Domain.

Here Endeth the Lesson.

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