Free the Mouse!

Lawrence Lessig on Disney, copyrights, and the creative commons

Stanford law professor Lawrence Lessig discusses copyright law and the Web. It's a lot more interesting than it sounds.
Stanford law professor Lawrence Lessig discusses copyright law and the Web. It's a lot more interesting than it sounds. (Photo By John Anderson)

Notable author and Stanford law professor Lawrence Lessig came to SXSW Interactive with a story to tell.

It was a story of a giant of U.S. industry, clinging to outdated business practices, that found itself on the verge of obsolescence. Faced with this threat, the industrial giant used its political clout to protect its market share through federal regulation.

Sound familiar?

No, it's not big steel. It's Disney. As sayeth the Constitution, no copyright lasts forever, and Mickey Mouse™ himself was due to enter the public domain in 2003. But in 1995, the forward-thinking Eisner & Co. bought him an extra 20 years of indentured servitude through Congress' Sonny Bono Copyright Extension Act. "In the past 40 years, Congress has extended the terms of copyright 11 times," recounted Lessig in his keynote address at the Interactive Conference Saturday. "Every time the Disney copyright is about to expire, the terms of copyright protection get extended."

Repeatedly extending terms of copyright protection, said Lessig, we are denying ourselves this important resource, a "creative commons."

Lessig is currently working on a case that seeks to overturn the so-called Mickey Mouse Protection Act. He sees it as legislation that protects the few (publishers) at the expense of the many (creators and consumers). As a free society, argues Lessig, we have the right to a rich public domain of software, music, and film, enabling "a creative process in which artists rip, mix, and burn the culture of the past," a culture which could be archived on the Web for all to use. Instead, our cultural heritage remains under lock and key. By repeatedly extending terms of copyright protection, says Lessig, we are denying ourselves this important resource, a "creative commons."

For now, though, the commons are fenced off, and Mickey's on the inside. And here we sit, enough bandwidth to drive a Mack truck through, and there's nothing to watch. If only we could get a free download of "Steamboat Willie."

Keep up with all our SXSW coverage at austinchronicle.com/sxsw. Sign up for our South By-specific newsletter at austinchronicle.com/newsletters for news, reviews, and previews delivered to your inbox every day of the Fest. And for the latest tweets, follow @ChronSXSW.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
SXSW Panel: The War at Home: Trump and the Mainstream Media
The War at Home: Trump and the Mainstream Media
How to report and consume news under siege from the White House

Michael King, March 16, 2017

SXSW Taps FBI Director James Comey
SXSW Taps FBI Director James Comey
FBI chief will discuss privacy and cybersecurity at March fest

Chase Hoffberger, Jan. 26, 2017

More Screens Reviews
SXSW Film
SXSW Film Reviews: 'Lunarcy!'
Daily Reviews and Interviews

Wayne Alan Brenner, March 15, 2013

SXSW Film
SXSW Film Reviews: 'The Punk Syndrome'
Daily Reviews and Interviews

Patrick Courtney, March 15, 2013

More by Michael Connor
Pauline & Paulettes
Brevity is the Soul -- Four-Word Film Reviews
A last conversation with Kael, the last decade with her successor, and a few words from online armchair critics

Oct. 11, 2002

Night of the Living Dead
Night of the Living Dead
Cinematexas sics itself on video chain giant

Sept. 13, 2002

KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Lawrence Lessig, Mickey Mouse, Disney, SXSW Interactive, copyright, creative commons, Internet law, the Sonny Bono Copyright Extension Act

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Updates for SXSW 2019

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle