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Intellectual Property

Everyday IP: Mickey Mouse and the story of intellectual property in movies

The first Mickey Mouse cartoon, “Steamboat Willie,” was made in 1928 by animators Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks. It’s unlikely that either of them had any idea that their anthropomorphic, mischievous mouse would go on to become a global icon of entertainment and a constant reminder of the transience of copyright protection. However, the effects of intellectual property (IP) go far beyond the sagas of copyright law in the entertainment industry.


One of the unique IP protection problems the film business has to deal with today, almost a century later, is the impending expiration of “Willie’s” copyright. Although it may tell many exciting IP tales, the inevitability of copyright expiration is just one of them. Trademarking, licencing, brand valuation, and other IP issues are essential to developing, monetising, and enjoying movies.


Fast-forward to the public domain with Mickey Mouse.


Compared to current laws, copyright law in the United States afforded less protection in the late 1920s: It only permitted a maximum length of 42 years (28 to start, with the possibility to renew for an additional 14). They have been extended over the years, most noticeably by the Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998. The Walt Disney Co. actively advocated for this new law, which guaranteed protection for works for hire and nameless and pseudo-anonymous works for 120 years after creation or 95 years after publication, whichever came first.


Despite the 1998 extension, time’s unstoppable march ensures that the “Steamboat” era Mickey will still enter the public domain in October 2024. However, because of the complexity of copyright law, specificity is highly valued. Other creators will be able to share the first representations of the Mickey Mouse character, but just those specific cartoons. The Disney corporation has registered the use of Mickey Mouse’s look from the 1920s as a trademark, and actively used brands remain valid until renewal fees produce. As a result, if someone uses a picture of Mickey Mouse taken from public domain information in a way that conflicts with one of Disney’s many registered trademarks, they risk getting into legal trouble with the company’s legal team.


In other words, only Disney may utilise the name and likeness of Mickey Mouse from the “Steamboat” era to denote the place of origin of goods and services. As soon as the copyrights on the earliest Mickey Mouse cartoons expire, anybody can alter, duplicate, and distribute them; moreover, Disney’s trademarked character components must be better by authors to develop new works. Disney continues to hold trademarks for Mickey’s numerous iterations and designs.

In the initial years of the work’s public-domain status, Disney will adopt a combative attitude to protect its trademark rights and set a favourable precedent.


“Batgirl” disappears into the darkness.


Disney is adept at using characters in a variety of ways. In contrast, Warner Bros. Discovery, which owns the intellectual property rights to the DC Comics characters, is going through a severe identity crisis.


An example of this in the recent past was the media conglomerate’s abrupt decision to completely bury its finished “Batgirl” movie to recover some of the film’s alleged USD 70 million expenditure as a tax write-off. According to some industry insiders, the film’s cancellation was the result of inadequate test screenings, but according to others, Warner’s financial woes played no role in the decision. However, the decision is a part of a more significant corporate course correction to steer the production business away from simultaneous releases of medium-to-large budget films in theatres and streaming sites.


This choice could be more impressive in a vacuum. Warner is free to create whatever material it wants that features Batman, Batgirl, Superman, and numerous more characters, all registered trademarks of DC thanks to its ownership of DC Comics and DC Entertainment. The cancellation of the “Batgirl” movie is puzzling because it happened even though DC is still committed to making the significantly more expensively priced “The Flash” in 2023.

Warner anticipates “The Flash” to be a box office hit. Therefore, the title character may have a better IP value than Batgirl. But over the past few years, leading man Ezra Miller has focused more on creating dramatic scandals than building the DC brand. It’s startling how differently Warner addresses the two scenarios. Due to the star-related concerns surrounding one piece of intellectual property (IP), “The Flash,” the brand is currently suffering. The other, “Batgirl,” is nevertheless important intellectual property even though it is, at best, a terrible movie.


It will be intriguing to watch what long-term implications these decisions will have on the Warner and DC brand identities and, ultimately, their values, despite how composed movie companies and TV networks frequently appear to be.


NFT legal conflict with Tarantino.


More than just popular movie franchises and animated characters have a role in branding, thanks to intellectual property. This commercial reality gives an idea of an expected legal dispute between renowned writer-director Quentin Tarantino (“Pulp Fiction,” “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”) and his longstanding distributor Miramax.

Tarantino revealed his intentions to sell non-fungible tokens made from digitised pages of the “Pulp Fiction” screenplay that never turned into a movie in late 2021. (NFTs). Miramax promptly sued the filmmaker for copyright infringement and contract breach. According to Tarantino’s legal team, the director has the right to benefit from things directly connected to the screenplay. According to Miramax, the film’s copyright surpasses Tarantino’s script copyright.


IP experts and movie fans have plenty of time to predict how the lawsuit will play out because the trial is the plan for February 28, 2023. The most crucial discussion will probably centre on how Tarantino’s use of the script in NFTs is ram by the 1993 licencing arrangement between Tarantino and Miramax, produced before NFTs existed. One of the rights Tarantino has reserved “interactive media.” Therefore, a lot will depend on whether the legal team for the director can claim that NFTs fall under that heading.


Horror independent: “All rights reserved.”


The indie cinema community, which Tarantino helped to popularise with early movies like “Pulp Fiction,” is still essential. This sustained success can be a credit to streaming services like Netflix and Hulu, which have leveraged their extensive platforms to present challenging, thought-provoking movies. Alfonso Cuarón’s “Roma,” Jane Campion’s “The Power of the Dog,” and Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman” are three notable instances that were nominated for or won numerous Oscars.


A funding arrangement that seems too good to be true is. A panel discussion in July 2022 involving eminent independent filmmakers discussed the fly in the ointment of streaming distribution. They claimed that the promised budgets, which frequently include producers’ and directors’ pay, are the proverbial offer they cannot refuse when streaming services offer to finance, produce, or distribute independent films. However, there may be terms reserving the majority or all of the IP rights to the streaming services buried in the fine print. They were a significant issue in European film markets, according to John Lesher, the producer of Alfonso Cuarón’s “Birdman,” which won the 2015 Oscar for Best Picture. However, it also hurt American producers and filmmakers.


expression protection


The movies that have charmed, enthralled, startled, and moved audiences worldwide are safe by various IP rights. The specialists at IP Docketers can assist you in creating and putting into action the most efficient plan to protect your artistic endeavours, whether you are a global production corporation or an auteur on the rise.


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