Death to Disney, part 1

by Joey deVilla on December 19, 2001

Of course, Walt himself is already dead. I’m referring to Disney, the corporation.

I was reading a story in Wired News today, sent there by a link on bOING bOING, a particularly good news blog to which I sometimes provide information and which sometimes links to this ‘umble accordionist’s blog. Being a programmer in the peer-to-peer software world, where issues of copyright and fair use are always close by, this one particular quote jumped out at me. Forgive the extra-large type, but I really want to drive a point home.

“There is no right to fair use…Fair use is a defense against infringement.”

This outright lie was spoken by Preston Padden, who holds the position of Head of Government Relations for the Disney Corporation. I had to make sure I read it right because what he said sounded like insane ranting. He’s declared that the right to fair use — a right that we as people who enjoy creations such as books, music and movies most certainly have — does not exist. Almost as shocking is the fact that an entertainment company needs a deparment devoted solely to maintaining relations witht the government. Goofy (I’m referring to the character named Goofy, not Bush 43) probably has more pull with Congress than Canada, Mexico and the entire European Union combined.

Time for the accordion player to drop a little science…


Copyright is the set of exclusive legal rights that creators are given over their works for a limited period of time. The idea behind copyright is to “promote science and the useful arts”. By protecting the works of people who create original works, copyright is supposed to provide a legal mechanism for them to be compensated for their efforts — after all, it stands to reason that creators who can make a living by creating would create more.

The rights of someone who holds the copyright on a work are:

  • the right to reproduce the work
  • the right to prepare derivative works based upon the work
  • the right to distribute copies of the work to the public by selling, renting or lending it
  • the right to perform the work in public
  • the right to display the work in public
  • the right to perform the work publicly by means of a digital audio transmission

Copyright law applies to virtually every form of expression that can be “fixed” (as the lawyers like to put it) in a tangible medium that can contain that expression: paper, film, magnetic tape or disks, optical storage such as CDs or DVDs, or even merely in RAM. You see copyrighted works every day: they’re songs, books, software, and movies, to name a few. The copyright on a work lasts from the moment the work is finished and ends 70 years after the death of the creator of the work.

Copyright ideally belongs to the creator of the work, but it isn’t necessarily that way. A creator may hand copyright over to someone else in exchange for some kind of benefit. One example is my friend, Cory Doctorow, a science fiction author (and a good one, to boot). He owns the copyright to his stories, but he licenses that copyright to his publisher for the duration for as long as they publish his book. If he severs the relationship with his publisher, copyright reverts to him. By getting copyright on the book, the publisher collects the compensation (that is, the moolah, the filthy lucre, tha benjamins) that they are legally entitled to as the holder of the copyright, and they toss Cory his “vig” — that’s publisher talk for his slice of the pie. In return, Cory gets the resources of the publisher: editors, printing presses, distribution and publicity. At least that’s the way it’s supposed to work. Some publishers do well by their authors, some don’t.

The publishers whom I believe do worst by their authors are the record companies. The music industry — an oligarchy since there are few enough “big players” to count on a single hand — are opportunistic profiteers who have turned copyright law into a means of fattening themselves. When an artist or band signs on with a record company, the company owns the copyright on their songs forever. It wasn’t always this way; it used to be that record companies could hold onto the copyright for their artists’ songs for 35 years, after which the artists could reclaim it. However, thanks to a change in copyright law in November 1999, the copyright a song published by a record company belongs to the company forever. Initiated by a congressional aide and scumbag Mitch Glazier and backed by the Record Industry Association of America, this bit of legal sophistry was conceald inside the rather innocuous-sounding Satellite Home Viewing Act of 1999. It redefined recorded music as “works for hire,” and as such, the legal creators of the works were the record companies. The artists, as far as the law was concerned, were reduced to hired hands.

This bit of legal trickery is, as we street accordion players like to say, complete horseshit. A plumber coming to fix your pipes is work for hire. An architect who builds a building for your company is doing work for hire. A photographer who works for a newspaper or magazine as part of reportage is doing work for hire. A composer who is commissioned to write a song or symphony for some event is doing work for hire.

However, an author who comes up with an idea for a book and then writes that book is not doing work for hire, nor was Ansel Adams when he was taking his black-and-white portraits, nor was the Godfather of Soul when he felt like a sex machine and set it to music.

Next time: I’ll cover fair use, and why they want to take this right away from you.

Recommended Reading

The U.S. Copyright Office’s Copyright Basics page. A good place to start.

The FCC’s page for the Satellite Home Viewing Act. See how recording artists lost their right to their own music.

The RIAA’s not done yet. True to form, they tried to sneak in more self-serving changes to copyright through some post 9/11 anti-terrorism bills. There’s nothing like profiting from the deaths of 6,000 innocent people, isn’t there?

Courtney Love Does the Math. The real pirates, she says, are the record companies. A piece so right-on that I could almost forgive her for killing Kurt (just kidding, Courtney).

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Roger Scott Craig October 13, 2010 at 12:01 pm

Change coming soon with MTunz, Musicians selling their Tunz directly to their fans with our Chairman Tony Bramwell from the Beatles camp. 80% and not 8% going to the hard working artists, integrating Variable pricing of music, Interactive elements and a rewards system to reward people who do not steal music

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