by Dulce Dahlia
It’s always tough to root for the underdog when neither of the involved parties deserves that title. So, rather than pick one, we’ll just discuss the overweening ridiculousness of copyright law. It’s a subject that never goes out of style, thanks to our legislators’ willingness to continually extend copyright protection terms.
As was covered much earlier in the year, Disney is producing its own “Wizard of Oz” movie, titled “Oz the Great and Powerful.” While Frank L. Baum’s books are definitely in the public domain, filmed depictions of Baum’s characters are mainly the property of Warner Bros. WB attempted to head off this incursion into its domain by filing a trademark application on “The Great and Powerful Oz,” but it was a week too late and is now (presumably) several billion dollars short (H’Wood mathematics, yo).
Having failed to block Disney’s entry into the Oz arena, Warner has now busied itself with watching each development for any slip-up that could land it a tasty settlement — or an injunction. To that end, Disney has placed its own legal team on the set to ensure that none of the characters or elements in the Disney film bear too much resemblance to Warner’s property. The sheer amount of highly detailed micromanagement needed to avoid the rights holder’s litigious wrath borders on OCD-hellish insanity.
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is in the public domain. But our wonderful copyright laws, extended almost by clockwork to keep corporations wealthy, mean that the movie is still covered by the law.
So you can have a movie about the Wizard of Oz, but it can not look too much like the one from the movie. And a green witch, but the color of green cannot be too much like the one from the movie.
Did the Founding Fathers really envision that the corporate holders of a copyright or trademark for a movie – whose creative team are long dead and no longer getting anything for their work – could continue to control the creative aspects of a book even older?
Why is that? It turns out that a court ruled that, even though the book and characters are in the public domain, any visualizations of the characters was not. In fact, Warners owns any visual depiction of a character from its movie.
Thus the only remake of a public domain work over 100 years old can only be made by Warner Brothers. And is why we are now seeing a Disney movie where the characters bear no resemblance to anyone from a 74 year old movie.
Does this really make use more creative?