Tag Archives: Disney

The Tangled Web of Sony and Disney: Spider-Man’s Past, Present, and Future in the MCU

Like every superhero origin story, the Disney-Sony deal to share the Spider-Man franchise is full of ups, downs, twists, and turns. From a shocking withdrawal from the MCU to a triumphant surprise return, late August through late September was quite a ride for Spider-Man fans. The stage was set for the Disney and Sony conflict all the way back in 1998.

The Origin Story

1998 was a low year for the comics industry as a whole, and Marvel Studios was teetering on the edge of bankruptcy. In a last-ditch effort to stay afloat, Marvel divvied up and sold the film rights to several major characters and franchises to Fox, Sony, and Universal.

Spider-Man and his related characters were bought by Sony, with the stipulation that a movie must be made every 5.75 years, or the rights would revert back to Marvel. Marvel retained the film rights for the Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy, etc., because at the time, they weren’t popular and were worth almost nothing.

Fast forward several years to the 2009 Disney acquisition of Marvel/Marvel Studios and subsequent birth of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Kevin Feige’s gamble of taking the relatively unknown characters that Marvel had the rights to and giving them feature films had paid off enormously, taking the company from the verge of bankruptcy to one that was pulling in millions and billions every year. Despite the advantage of owning one of the most popular superheroes of all time, Sony was having mixed success.

The first two installments of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man franchise were enormously successful, only to have the third flop. The Amazing Spider-Man series struggled to gain footing, the third being scraped altogether. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 had the additional problem of being sandwiched between Marvel’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy in theaters.

The Team-Up

After the infamous Sony hack of 2014, it was revealed that Sony and Disney executives had been in contact discussing potential ways for Spider-Man to join the main Marvel Cinematic Universe. The talks had begun in October of 2014, a few short months after the Amazing Spider-Man 2 had a lackluster debut. The deal was publicly announced on February 9th, 2015. It consisted of three solo movies and three additional appearances in the MCU.

In this deal, Sony would put up 100% of the funding for the solo movies and would get the final creative say during production. In return, they would net 95% of the profits. They also got a portion of the profits for movies where Spider-Man appeared but was not the lead. Disney would receive 5% of the first-dollar gross on the film and all the merchandising rights. They also got additional money if the film reached certain box office milestones.

It was a mutually beneficial deal for both Sony and Disney: Sony got to play in the MCU sandbox (and jump on the profit train), while Disney got access to one of the most popular superheroes of all time.

The Big Battle

After seeing Spider-Man: Far From Home rake in over $1 billion at the box office, Marvel and Sony sat down to renegotiate the terms of their deal. Disney wanted to put up 50% of the financing for the next Spider-Man film and receive 50% of the profits in return. Sony unsurprisingly said no. Spider-Man is by far raking in the most money of Sony’s current projects, and they were understandably reluctant to let any of that go. Neither side was willing to budge. On August 30, 2019 it was announced that negotiations had failed completely and that Spider-Man was out of the MCU.

The public outcry was enormous. Fans and even stars and directors of other Marvel movies lobbied the companies to return to negotiations. Avengers: Endgame co-director Joe Russo commented that the split was a “tragic mistake”. Sony issued a statement via Twitter in response, noting that they were “disappointed,” but respected Disney’s decision (Sony’s full statement)

Behind the scenes, Spider-Man himself Tom Holland was making appeals to both Sony film chairman Tom Rothman and Disney chairman/CEO Bob Iger according to The Hollywood Reporter. He was being employed by both studios for different projects at the time.  

Unexpected Victory

After nearly a month of mourning by fans, shocking news broke just after 8am on September 27th. Disney and Sony had quietly returned to the negotiations table in previous days and announced a new deal that would keep Spider-Man in the MCU for at least two more movies: one solo film, and one additional appearance. The specific financial aspects of the deal were not publicly revealed (Disney and Sony joint statement)

“I am thrilled that Spidey’s journey in the MCU will continue, and I and all of us at Marvel Studios are very excited that we get to keep working on it.” said Kevin Feige (Marvel Studios)

“I could not be happier we will all be working together as we see where his journey goes. This has been a winning partnership for the studios, the franchise and the fans and I’m overjoyed it will continue.” Added Amy Pascal (Pascal Pictures/Sony).  

The companies both highlighted that the outcry from fans on social media was a huge factor in returning to the negotiations table, along with Tom Holland’s behind-the-scenes diplomacy.

What do you think? Are you disappointed the independent Sony Spider-Man Universe has essentially been scrapped now that he’s returning to the MCU? Are you hoping to see more Spider-Man characters make the jump into the big universe? Let us know in the comments below!

-Hannah Butler

Disney Play: Yay or Nay?

Coming in 2019 is the new Disney streaming service to be known as Disney Play. Imagine Netflix or Hulu, except everything Disney. No, it won’t be completely full of Princess movies and cartoons, as it will also contain everything else that Disney owns. Movies and content from the Marvel Universe, Lucasfilms, and 21st Century Fox will all be featured on Disney Play, as well as some original content that will be sporadically produced. So whether you like it or not, say goodbye to Disney content on Netflix, and say hello to Disney content on the all new Disney Play.

Disney Play All Disney content will be removed from Netflix within the next few years. The majority will be removed in 2018, but a few films in the Marvel Universe will remain on Netflix until later in 2019. Disney is very excited about breaking into the streaming service world, where it will compete directly with Netflix and Amazon Prime Video.

Disney already owns 60% of Hulu so some may ask why they feel the need to create their own streaming platform. The answer is that Disney felt the need to put their own brand name out there in a streaming crazed world. Although the new service will take precedence, there will still be plenty of Disney owned content that will appear on Hulu.

One of the promises that Disney CEO, Bob Iger, made to the world when announcing Disney Play was that it would be a cheaper streaming service than Netflix. The cheapest package that Netflix offers is $8. Based on Iger’s claims, expect Disney Play to be less than that. Having a cheap streaming service is obviously a great way to attract business. However, depending on how low the price actually is, some may start to question the fact that the service is so cheap and maybe raise an eyebrow at the content that is being offered.  So how cheap can Disney Play be? I guess we will find out come 2019.

Disney PlayAnother way that Disney plans on bringing in subscribers is with original content it will produce occasionally. The first movie that will be featured on Disney Play is called “Timmy Failure.” The movie will be based on the book that was written by Stephan Pastis. The movie carries a $42 million budget and will be premiered on Disney Play in 2019. Other original content that will be featured is a new Star Wars series called “The Mandalorian” that will be exclusive to Disney Play. The series is a 10-part series that carries a $100 million budget. Disney hopes that the big name series will excite Star Wars fans worldwide and bring in more subscribers. (Here is the first known picture of the new series “The Mandalorian”.)

Disney Play still has plenty of unknowns and what ifs. Details revolving around the new streaming service have been kept pretty secret since the idea was announced in 2017. I would expect more info to be released as the kickoff date approaches. There are many speculations about Disney Play but few will know until it is actually right in front of us.

I am really interested in seeing how successful Disney Play will be. With limited content compared to other streaming services, Disney Play will be up against some heavy competition in the streaming world, but that does not scare Disney chief Bob Iger. Iger seems to be very confident of what Disney can do, and he looks forward to watching Disney Play kickoff. So I ask you, what do you think? Disney Play: yay or nay?

– Christian Ellsworth

The SOLO Film to Keep in the Star Wars Tradition

Disney is producing a Han Solo standalone movie? What’s next, a Jabba the Hutt film? Actually I think I might have spoke too soon on that last one… Regardless, in 2015 Disney announced their expansive slate of films through 2020, which included the “Solo” pic along with the likes of two more saga films and the first Star Wars standalone film in Rogue One. It was a bit of a risky move to dive into a realm outside of the saga stories, but Rogue One showed it could be possible, and financially successful. Each of the announced films were slated to be released in December of their respective year, all except for one of them. The then untitled Han Solo film was set to be released in May 25th of 2018, making it the lone, or “solo,” Disney produced film to keep with the Star Wars summer tradition.

Star Wars Since May of 1977, the Star Wars franchise had become famous for its summer releases and for paving the way of the blockbuster movie along with Spielberg’s Jaws. Each film in the franchise after was released around the third or fourth weekend in May, until The Force Awakens broke the tradition. Since Disney has been releasing all their new films in the month of December and carving a new tradition, why break from that and keep Han Solo in May?

One of the reasons could be that since Han Solo is a classic character that harkens back to the original trilogy film, all of which had summer releases. Therefore, Disney might want to replicate that traditional feel with this iconic character. Another reason could be that Disney might want to avoid the bloated winter holiday movie season slated in 2018. Paramount is releasing a Transformers spinoff film titled Bumblebee in December, Warner Brothers has Aquaman , and Disney themselves plans to release the long awaited sequel Mary Poppins Returns as well. December of 2018 definitely seems like a month to avoid at this point. Yet again, is May all that great of a month to release the film in either?

Fast forward from 2015 to 2017 and the now titled Solo: A Star Wars Story is well into production… that is until directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller were suddenly fired over creative differences with Disney. Subsequently, Hollywood veteran Ron Howard was brought in to rein in the film, and Disney insisted the film would maintain its May 25th, 2018 release date despite the ongoing mess. Is this really a good idea though? A film of this caliber should take all the time it needs, and I’m not so sure having directors fired mid-production paints a picture that the film is in good shape. In addition to behind the scene trouble, there remains a large and potentially self-cannibalizing elephant in the room.

Star Wars Disney and Marvel have had plans in place since late 2014 to release the highly coveted third installment in the Avengers franchise in May of 2018, just three weeks before Solo. Will this create unwanted competition between two in house franchises? In its third weekend of release, around the same time frame that Solo will be released, Avengers was still making around 36 million dollars at the box office, and the sequel Avengers: Age of Ultron was making 28 million dollars. Could releasing Solo in that time period potentially step on the toes of an expected financial blockbuster in Infinity War? I’m not so sure it won’t, but I trust the number crunchers at Disney know what they are doing.

Solo has put itself in quite the dilemma. Despite all the shake ups behind the scenes of its production, the film is set on being rushed to release in May of 2018. Unfortunately, there is not many other windows in which it can be released as it really can’t follow the new Disney tradition of December releases because of the expanding Hollywood winter season. Its current release in May could potentially cannibalize its companion in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. What to do, what to do… I guess we’ll just wait for May and see what happens.

-Tristan Bennett

Unlocking Disney’s Vault: Saving the Classics for the Next Generation

“Time is running out!

Soon your favorite Disney movie will be placed back into the Disney vault FOREVER!”

DisneyWell no, not really! Forever is a very strong word, and luckily Disney is smart enough to realize that permanent disappearance isn’t a great marketing strategy. If Disney actually locked films away to never be seen again, it would defeat the entire purpose of the vault, which was created so that its films would not be forgotten!

But why exactly did the vault strategy start? Well it all started with Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. Snow White was released in 1937, and became a huge hit. Because of its popularity, Disney re-released the film seven years later in 1944. One needs to remember that in the 1940’s, there was no VHS’s, no DVDs, and no online streaming. If you missed the film in theaters, you might never get to see it again. By re-releasing it in theaters seven years later, a whole new, younger generation of children were exposed to Snow White all over again. Because the re-release was wildly successful, and a dependent source of revenue for Disney during war time, they continued the practice of opening the vault for many years to come.

With the 1980’s came the VCR, and with it, the opportunity for a marketing change. Releasing a film to VHS sales was a bit of a risk, and the first movie to be sold was Pinocchio. Though Disney was worried people would only buy the tape once and would pass it down, many people bought and kept their own and Disney decided to continue to release films from the vault not through theatres, but onto VHS tapes. This Vulture article talks more about Disney’s struggle to decide whether or not to release onto VHS.

The brilliance behind the vault-release strategy is the ability to avoid the cheapening of videos as time goes on. Normally, the longer a video is out on store shelves, the more the price drops. By Disney choosing to “lock up” and release from the vault every 7-10 years (per movie), Disney can charge full price for an older film!

Though making money is an important part of the vault strategy, it is not the only thing Disney is focused on. In order to maintain its popularity as time goes on, Disney realized they needed to find a way to stay relevant as new generations were born and previous generations aged. Besides continuing to create new content, they needed to find a way to keep older films recognizable to the new generations as well. The vault strategy has allowed them to do this, by re-releasing films to newer younger generations who had not been exposed to the films in previous years. This E! News article explains the generational strategy of the vault a bit further.

DisneyBut what does it take for a film to be allowed into the vault? Though there are no set criteria, generally there are no live action films, no Pixar films (with the exception of Toy Story 1 & 2). Some sequels are allowed in the vault, but not all of them.

As time goes on, Disney may have to rethink its strategy for releasing films from the vault as more and more movies become available for streaming. This should not be a problem for Disney, based on their history of changing from theatrical film to VHS tapes, to DVD/BluRay rather seamlessly. For a more extensive look at the vaults history and the entire list of films in the vault, check out this Disney fandom article.

-Madison Steffen

Disney’s Distribution Dilemma: Coco Needs Some Frozen Fever

What happens when movie fans become upset with your upcoming release and you are worried about the potential loss in ticket sales? You slap some Frozen on it and call it good. This is, in my opinion, exactly what Disney has done with its upcoming release of Coco. They are able to use this technique to support Coco mainly because Frozen is such a coveted property.

FrozenWhile, as I will discuss later, using this method of premiering shorts in front of films is not something new for Pixar, it is becoming something new for other distribution and film companies particularly within the independent arena. Utilizing this method could lead to additional revenue sources for these companies.

Before we get into the thick of things with Frozen and the other companies, let’s discuss Coco and why fans are so upset with Disney. Some of you may remember a certain 20th Century Fox film titled The Book of Life.

According to reporting from Polygon, it’s a colorfully animated film that tells the story of “living characters venturing into the Land of the Dead” based around the Mexican holiday Dia de los Muertos. Music also plays a huge role in this film. What’s the issue with Coco? It’s basically the same.

  Frozen

Disney’s Pixar actually announced their concept for Coco slightly ahead of 20th Century Fox, they just beat Pixar to the box office. While this fact may help Pixar’s reputation slightly, it is hard to change audiences’ minds once a rumor takes hold.

Another reason fans are upset with Walt Disney and Pixar over Coco involves the composition of the production crew. The Book of Life had “several Mexican producers and animators onboard” while initially Coco had an all Caucasian team lined up. After some additional outrage by fans, Disney enlisted an all Latino cast for the film along with a “coalition of cultural consultants.”

Additionally, the Walt Disney Company did not do itself any favors in the publicity department when it attempted to “trademark ‘Dia de los Muertos’” as the original name for Coco. Not a smart move, but if Disney knows how to do one thing right it is to use magic. In this case, hopefully to save a movie from flopping at the box office.

This is where Frozen comes into the equation as a saving force for Coco. The third installment in the Frozen series, Olaf’s Frozen Adventure, will premiere exclusively in front of Coco in theaters. This may seem normal for Pixar as it has been a tradition since A Bug’s Life was released to include an original short at the beginning and/or a feature short included in the credits as “outtakes”.

Some examples of these include: For the Birds released with Monsters, Inc.; Blue Umbrella released with Monsters University; Piper released with Finding Dory; and Jack-Jack Attack that was in The Incredibles credits.

For a full list of films and their accompanying shorts click here.

Frozen  Frozen

Normally these shorts are created by so called amateur animators and generally are not directly affiliated to any major property. Coco’s short, on the other hand, is a well-known Disney property that had a lot of effort put into it.

The point of contention occurs regarding the originally planned distribution method for Olaf’s Frozen Adventure. Early in its development it was said that ABC, which Disney owns, would premiere it as a television special. Eventually deemed “too cinematic” it was decided the short film would become a theatrical featurette instead. For more on this click here.

While this may seem a coincidence, I feel as though the Walt Disney Company realized they wouldn’t fully recover from the lingering “ghost of The Book of Life” and their “ill-fated ‘Dia de los Muertos’ trademark attempt” without taking additional measures. Can you say oops?

FrozenAll in all, the Walt Disney Company realized that Coco’s box office performance wouldn’t be at par with what they needed, so they altered the distribution pattern for Olaf’s Frozen Adventure. Now having it paired with Coco in theaters not only gives the feeling of exclusivity, but it will also draw all of the Frozen fans to the theaters to see the next installment in the very well established franchise.

Interestingly enough, the Walt Disney Company is not the only one putting exclusive content in the form of short films ahead of major releases. Within the independent film business, Neon is a company that is starting this trend up again.

Neon, the “distribution shingle launched by Tim League and Tom Quinn” (Winfrey) buys independent short films and places them with their other independent properties for distribution. The first installment for Neon was 5 Films About Technology which premiered alongside Colossal. As of now, Neon only places shorts in front of its own properties, but only time will tell if they decide to sell the rights to short films to other distributors.

Is placing short films with major releases an effective method of distribution for major film studios to use in the future to get a larger audience in attendance?

-Piper Davis

Moana: Disney’s Venture into New Seas, You’re Welcome?

Moana is a Maori and Hawaiian word that roughly translates to “ocean, wide expanse of water, or deep sea.” (behindthename.com). Leave it to Disney to take this translation literally and produce a marketing campaign that was equally expansive and in a sense, deep.

MoanaMoana is Disney’s latest animated feature film to come out riding strong on the so called “Frozen wave” established with the release and success of Frozen in 2013. To ensure this success, the official trailer stated that Moana was “from the creators of Frozen” to provide a credible base for the film to stand on with viewers.

Disney used a variety of marketing tactics from the traditional to pushing the boundaries of what is new. The few that I will be discussing in this post are the traditional posters, trailers, and television spots along with the new Weather Channel backgrounds and full out vessel takeovers. Much like with Tangled, this campaign had a more boy-friendly feel to it. It was filled with more action clips than a more traditional Disney campaign would include.

Firstly, it would not be a marketing campaign without trailers and posters to constantly remind us that the movie is coming. Moana had several posters created to show off the main characters, the setting, and intrigue the audience about the plot line to be followed. In addition to this, a teaser and full official trailer were created to further intrigue audiences about the film.

The recent Olympics in Rio De Janeiro also gave Disney a unique opportunity for this campaign. What better time to advertise then when it’s quite possible the whole world could be watching? Granted it most likely aired in specific markets, but there were still high volumes of audiences. Thus, producing an extended promo was a good call on the part of Disney to ensure maximum exposure with relevant audiences.

Moving on now to the newer and more unique marketing strategies that Disney perused; starting with its frequent marketing partner, The Weather Company. What this company does is offer geotargeted promotions through its Weather Channel App. These appear in the form of branded backgrounds on the current weather screens of its users.

While other movies have used these branded backgrounds, such as The Penguins of Madagascar in 2014 produced by DreamWorks Animation, Moana was the first to use the new animated backgrounds. The backgrounds that users saw were based on the current weather conditions in their area. The branded backgrounds mimicked those conditions and subtly brought them to life.

There is one shortcoming that I can see with this campaign thus far; it was only available in select markets within the U.S. For a complete list of these cities and markets and more information about these branded backgrounds, click here.

One more element was incorporated within this app to appeal to the consumer desire for convenience. The app allowed users to purchase tickets to Moana at local theaters through a specialized website: Moanatickets.com.

A new adventure that Disney took on across the pond, in the UK, was turning an MBNA Thames Clippers’ catamaran into a Polynesian Wayfinder vessel. Thames Clippers provide river bus and cruise services on the Thames River in London. This was MBNA’s first partnership with Disney and with any company on a theatrical release for that matter. The goal was to immerse the customers in the movie and make them inclined to see it.

Perhaps saving their best promotional tool for last at the annual D23 Conference, Disney brought out the big guns to talk about the movie: Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson who voices Maui in the film. It may come as a surprise, but The Rock can sing ladies and gentlemen. If you haven’t heard his song yet, please watch it below. It will hook you and have you singing for a while. Which leads me to my next and final point.

Marketing and promotion for this film extends beyond everything done before the movie’s release date. Disney has several of its own official YouTube channels, one of which is called DisneyMusicVEVO. Often these channels contain the songs and most popular clips from the animated films.

This serves as a marketing tool in two ways: one to lure new viewers into the theaters by hearing about such songs either from word-of-mouth or by stumbling across the videos. Two to catch repeat viewers who see the video and realize how much they liked the movie and return to see it again.

Disney has produced an impressive campaign to market Moana to a diverse set of audiences, while also returning to its core demographic of young females as it is a female-centric film. Personally, I have not seen the film, but am intrigued to do so since “Your Welcome” has been playing on my computer for multiple weeks now. If you are curious as to how well this campaign translated into dollars for Disney on opening weekend, click here.

What are your thoughts about the movie in general? What aspects, if any, of this campaign drew you in to see the movie? Do you think that Disney went too far in its campaign by taking over a tourist vessel or was it simply a genius marketing move on their part? Feel free to leave a comment below.

Piper Davis

Defective Disney: Corrupting Your Children Since 1937

Disney films portray many dark themes throughout the years, from Snow White to Frozen and Zootopia. Peter Pan captures and kidnaps children to “Neverland”. Neverland being a stand in for heaven, as the true story of Peter Pan is that he is an angel that guides deceased children to their Nirvana. However, Disney can’t put something quite so morbid into their movies! Can they?

disney arielThe Little Mermaid tells girls to change for men in order to get them to love you, and selling your soul is okay, because it’s for love. But she’s just 16 years old, people! In the original tale, Ariel tries to kill the prince in order to regain her mermaid tail. But she is unable to kill him and dies, dissolving into sea foam in the process.

Beauty and the Beast is a beautiful representation of Stockholm syndrome (falling in love with a captor). It also forces the idea for the need for beauty at a young age, rather than beauty is in the “eye of the beholder”. Yes, Belle falls for the Beast despite his appearance, however the lesson backfires in the end because he turns back into a beautiful prince anyways. This Listverse article explains this further.

disney esmerelda

The “beauty takes all” theme is prevalent throughout not only Beauty and the Beast, but many other Disney tales as well. Take Quasimodo and the Hunchback of Notre Dame. He is in love with Esmerelda, yet still does not get the girl because he is not in the image of Disney’s “beauty”. To add to the Hunchback story, there is the disgusting character of Frodo, who dedicates a whole song (Hell Fire) to lusting after Esmeralda. Disney isn’t looking so innocent now, is it?

evil disney

Why is Disney portraying these dark themes? To stay edgy? To Teach children lessons? Or is it to keep the parents entertained as well?

These questions are a bit controversial. While Disney has never come out and explained the answers, we can assume it is a mix of all three, with the answers depending on the particular movie itself. Commentators on Disney from all over the world seem to be unable to agree to the answer.

Perhaps in an effort to stay fresh and edgy, Disney feels the need to push the limits with every movie they produce. There is also the idea of lessons. Alice in Wonderland taught us not to eat random food we find places (more importantly, don’t do drugs, kids!).  Peter Pan taught us to never grow up; an idea Walt truly idolized. Bambi, The Lion King, and Big Hero 6 taught us that life goes on after death (There is an in-depth analysis of these ideas found here). The fluffy-good feeling lessons are endless, even though they may be bursting with sadness as well, which this article articulates.

Lastly, there is the proposed idea that Disney is edgy to keep parents entertained, because really, how many kids really understood Hans’s foot-size joke in Frozen? Surely, that was thrown in for the parents.

Is Disney changing to lighter themes? Or are they simply getting better at hiding the themes?

To be fair, one would think Disney seems to be on the rise for the lighter side. What with the masterpiece that was Frozen, perhaps they have risen above their darker phase? Not quite. While Frozen portrays a strong sense of girl power, they still manage to keep it a little edgy (See Hans’s foot-size joke above).

Inside Out, Zootopia and Big Hero 6 seem less edgy, however they push the lessons to a more serious side. Props to Disney & Pixar for being brazen enough to cover topics like Depression, Social Classes/Racism, and Death/Grieving respectively. Perhaps this is a new era in which the fluff is over, and we start getting serious about educating our children about real problems.

disney bye

If Disney is changing, why are they changing? Are they trying to stay at the top of the game? Or could it be due to a new helicopter-esque style of parenting, making Disney nervous to push its limits? Could it be as simple as to teach children different lessons? What do you think?

Madison Steffen

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