Tag Archives: Copyright

“LOOK WHAT YOU MADE ME DO”: IS TAYLOR SWIFT A COPYCAT?

We all know by now that Taylor Swift is in love with her two cats, Olivia and Meredith, due to her abundance of cat pics on Instagram, but since her new song, “Look What You Made Me Do”, was released on August 25th, many listeners have been calling her a copy-cat. Why?

Taylor Swift

The song from her new album “Reputation” has accumulated almost 600 million views since its release date on YouTube and has given the 27-year-old, T-Swift, her biggest music video debut to date, according to Variety.  However, it is impossible to miss the similarities it possesses with one of the biggest hits of the 1990s, a song that almost everyone has danced to in the mirror at least once in their life: “I’m Too Sexy,’ written by Fred Fairbrass, Richard Fairbrass, and Rob Manzoli.

Copyright laws have been a fundamental part of the music industry, allowing musicians and writers to have full legal rights over their creation. In fact, according to Gallagher, Callahan, & Gartrell Law, copyright begins at the moment of fixation- when the music and lyrics have been set down on paper, recorded, or stored on a computer, and laws protects the musician even if the song was never registered.  The copyright will also continue to protect the composition for seventy years beyond the life of the author. One example of copyright infringement was in 2015 with the hit song “Blurred Lines,” written by Robin Thicke, with co-songwriter, Pharrell Williams. The song had copied elements of one of Marvin Gaye’s hit songs, and his family sued Thicke and Williams for $7.3 million, according to the New York Times.

So how did Swift get around this law without legal punishment? The members of Right Said Fred are each credited as co-songwriters and, according to Vulture, they were not aware of Swift’s interest in the soundtrack until two days before its initial release date. In fact, they heard the finished mix the exact same day the rest of the world were listening to it on the radio driving home from work, as Swift had reached out to their publishing company, Spirit Music Group, and asked them for permission to integrate the song.

Although “I’m Too Sexy,” has been illegally incorporated in creative mixes since its inception twenty-five years ago, this is one of the few times they have actually been compensated for their share. One of the members from the British group stated, “It will affect our royalty stream, we’re very aware of that. We’ve seen bumps in our royalties when the song is used in a movie or a commercial, but this is going to be of a different level,” he says. “But we’re an independent band, we’ve paid for everything since we started; we’ve never had a major record deal. So, for us, this is cash flow that will fund our successes and our failures.”

The new hit song will continue to rake in the revenue as its popularity continues to rise, while Taylor’s personal messages from her past experiences will spread across the globe. This new album is a force to be reckoned with. Let us know what you think of her new hit song and how effective the background music was to her new hit single, “Look What You Made Me Do”.

-Savannah Necker

Mickey Mouse’s Copyright: When Will the Magic End?

It should come as no surprise that the Walt Disney Company has feverishly tried and succeeded in keeping their signature Mickey Mouse out of the public domain. They have done so by influencing Congress to extend the Copyright Laws, and why wouldn’t they? Mickey Mouse has become so iconic that to lose control of him would translate to lost revenue. But don’t fret about this, of course Disney has a few tricks up its sleeve.

steamboat-willie-mickey-mouseIt all started with the Mickey that appears in the 1928 animated short, Steamboat Willie. His copyright was set to expire in 1984; 56 years of copyright protection was the law then. In 1976, Mickey was saved by Congress, which said that works were protected for the author’s life plus 50 years after that. Walt Disney had passed on by this time; he died in 1966. Conveniently, works published before this 1976 extension would be eligible for an additional 19 years of protection since they would have expired before the law was put into effect.

Flash forward to the 1990s… Disney, and other companies began lobbying for yet another extension, because Mickey is nearing his expiration date of 2003. What corporations wanted, not just Disney, was the same extension of 20 years that Europe had granted to its authors in 1993. So now we are at life plus 70 years for a copyright after the extension (the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act) was signed by Bill Clinton in 1998. This now puts Mickey Mouse expiring at about the year 2024.

For more on the copyrights around Mickey Mouse click here.

What is Disney to do? They can’t just sit by the way side and let Mickey fall into the public domain, but what choice do they have? They may try to rally support for another copyright extension or they can use a loophole they have found in the wonderful world of trademarks. “Trademark law protects words, phrases and symbols used to identify the source of the products or services.” (Carlisle, 2014). These laws could potentially prevent anyone from using Mickey Mouse as they please.

It could be argued that this is completely unfair. The trademark would basically grant eternal protection to the Walt Disney Company over Mickey Mouse. So what’s stopping Disney from doing this to every creative piece they own?

The answer is that most characters that are formerly copyrighted can be trademarked. According to law.cornell.edu, two basic requirements need to be met in order for an item to be granted a trademark. The item “must be in use in commerce and it must be distinctive.” Additionally, the character must also have “obtained ‘secondary meaning” to be granted eternal protection within the public domain. Basically secondary meaning is when someone sees the character they must be able to associate it with the source immediately.

So naturally Disney has been slapping Mickey on just about anything to do with the Walt Disney Company, and it has worked. Mickey Mouse has a reported “worldwide brand awareness of 97%”, according to an article on PRICECONOMICS. Don’t you see Mickey and immediately say or think Disney?

If you need more proof that this is actually real just read this court ruling: “A character deemed an artistic creation deserving copyright protection…may also serve to identify the creator, thus meriting protection under theories of trademark and unfair competition.” (Carlisle, 2014).

Thus far Disney has 19 different trademarks for Mickey Mouse including for his appearance and films. This is only feasible because Walt Disney was the original creator of Mickey Mouse. If he had just bought the rights to Mickey only the changes the company made to him after that would be protected.

mickey mouse          mickey mouse   mickey mouse

Mickey Mouse seems to be something special which, of course, we knew already. So is it fair that Disney gets to keep their control over Mickey for eternity? I think yes, it is fair. Let me explain why.

Mickey Mouse is too iconic to lose. Not only would a change to his image be devastating to the company, but also to my memories. I grew up knowing that Mickey Mouse meant Walt Disney and I can bet with almost certainty that you did too.

Mickey Mouse is and will forever be the Walt Disney Company. He holds their values and everything they stand for as a corporation. If it was any other character I would be saying that this use of trademarks will be an overreach of power, but not with Mickey.

Do you feel that no one should be able to obtain or use trademarks in this manner?

Do trademarks inhibit fair use?

Is there another iconic character that you feel should also be given the same protection as Mickey Mouse?

Piper Davis