Kat readers with no direct memory of the circumstances of the screening of the initial movie in 1977 may be hard-pressed to appreciate the impact that the movie had on a broad swathe of movie-goers worldwide. To say that it broke new ground barely captures the impact that it had on the film industry and the viewer experience. It is no secret that the Star Wars series, in all of its forms of commercial exploitation, has made a ton of money for Lucasfilm (and now Disney). But no one is forced to go to a Star Wars movie or buy a movie-themed toy. It is a tribute to Hollywood bringing together this combination of experiential and commercialization success.
Not so fast, Kat readers. According to The Economist--
“… Disney has skilfully capitalized on their intellectual property—and in so doing, cemented its position as the market leader in the industrialisation of mythology.”In its view, this movie, like many other Disney creations,
“…draw[s] on well-worn devices of mythic structure to give their stories cultural resonance. Walt Disney himself had an intuitive grasp of the power of fables. George Lucas, the creator of Star Wars, is an avid student of the work of Joseph Campbell, an American comparative mythologist who outlined the “monomyth” structure in which a hero answers a call, is assisted by a mentor figure, voyages to another world, survives various trials and emerges triumphant. Both film-makers merrily plundered ancient mythology and folklore. The Marvel universe goes even further, directly appropriating chunks of Greco-Roman and Norse mythology. (This makes Disney’s enthusiasm for fierce enforcement of intellectual-property laws, and the seemingly perpetual extension of copyright, somewhat ironic.)”
What exactly is the claim here? Is it that because the movie is making abundant use of cultural myths, and the creative contribution is alleged to be modest, Disney should be more measured about the enforcement of its copyright? That is an odd way to view the situation. After all, copyright law has various means to deal with this kind of thing, such as the idea/expression dichotomy and the notion of scène à faire. If Disney oversteps the bounds of its protected copyright, and the courts are correctly applying the appropriate legal principles, then efforts to claim copyright protection in cultural myths will be denied. But it seems that the root of the magazine’s complaint is not legal but moral. Someone like Disney, which makes good money (at the moment) from generating popular contents, should be showing more gratitude. The ultimate problem is not legal but a flaw in corporate character—being less “fierce” (how much less so is not clear) in protecting its intellectual property rights is one way that the company could be saying thank you to the cultural antecedents that have enabled it to successfully create its products.
But the criticism is not merely about a flaw in corporate character, but also the veiled it mounted in August 2015 regarding the alleged deleterious effect of patents on innovation. When it applied to Disney, at least, we can now add to the black list the harm being done to the market for creations that make use of cultural myths.