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January 1, 2003

Lawrence Lessig has been arguing for years against the shrinking of the public domain, and as the chief advocate in Eldred vs. Ashcroft, now pending before the Supreme Court, he may actually manage to do more than merely rhetorical good. (A decision is expected in July.)

Here on his weblog, Lessig unearths a great illustration of how the entertainment industry’s legal overreach has impoverished the rest of us. The whole post deserves to be read and disseminated:

So I’ve been telling this story about the birth of Mickey Mouse for some time now. See, e.g., my OSCON speech. The story goes like this: Walt Disney was a great creator in the tradition of great creativity: his creativity was to rip, mix, and burn popular culture. Even Mickey Mouse, who was born as Steamboat Willie (released in 1928), was a rip, mix, and burn take-off on Buster Keaton’s Steamboat Bill (released in 1928).

But I hadn’t realized just how true that was until I opened my very cool set of Disney “Treasures”—a special DVD release of the early black and white Mickey Mouse films that Disney is now selling (comes in a cool tin case, with a serial number pressed into the tin). The DVD is a great collection of the early cartoons, with some “bonus” features including the script for Steamboat Willie. Here’s a screen shot of the first page of the script. Notice the direction from Walt: “Orchestra starts playing opening verses of ‘Steamboat Bill.’” Try doing a cartoon take-off of one of Disney, Inc.’s latest films with an opening that copies the music, and see how far your Walt Empire gets.

[12:00 PM]
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Comments on Lawrence Lessig:

Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: January 01, 2003, 05:24 PM:

The more I learn about art, the more I find that copying is an essential part of it and that ideas of "originality" and "creativity" are an enormous barrier to beginning artists. On the other side of this is endlessly self-referential work that produces bad copies of good originals, even sometimes cheapening the originals.

But outlawing the ability to copy for creative purposes is probably deeply corrosive of real creativity. The idea that art--and even the ability to produce art--is the property of elites is one that already has too much currency as far as I am concerned; I see no good reasons to enshrine it in law.

Kip ::: (view all by) ::: January 02, 2003, 08:18 AM:

I wish I'd learned that sooner. My position on copying was so dogmatic for such a long time that I missed out on the learning that comes from carefully copying stuff. Not that I can't copy, but for years I just didn't. Learn from my mistake, kiddies!

I'll learn, too. See my new weblog, "Making Flashlights" for details.

(Note: best not hold breath.)

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: January 02, 2003, 08:36 AM:

A Kip Williams weblog would be a wonderful thing.