Disney Led Push to Add 20 Years to Copyrights

<i> From Associated Press</i>

Facing the loss of their exclusive rights to Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and other cartoon stars, Walt Disney Co. executives led a successful lobbying campaign to secure an extra 20 years of protection for their U.S. copyrights.

Congress passed the legislation, which now awaits President Clinton’s signature, to extend the copyrights, which otherwise would have expired beginning in 2003.

Chairman Michael Eisner took his concerns directly to Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.). The company’s political action committee also contributed to key lawmakers.

“We strongly indicated our support for the measure,” said Ken Green, a spokesman for Disney, whose copyright on Mickey Mouse was scheduled to expire in 2003, on Pluto in 2005, on Goofy in 2007 and on Donald Duck in 2009.

Richard Taylor, a Motion Picture Assn. of America spokesman, said Disney worked very hard on the issue. MPAA also used its own heavyweight lobbyist: its president, Jack Valenti, who called on his own decades-long contacts with legislators to move the bill.


The change in the law allows corporations to have exclusive rights for a total of 95 years, instead of 75 years as is currently the case. For individuals, such as authors and songwriters, it extends copyrights to a total of 70 years after death, rather than 50 years.

Copyrights allow the owner to control the reproduction and distribution of a creative work, such as movies or books. Once the copyright expires, anyone can use the character or publish the book without getting permission.

Rep. Howard Coble, R-N.C., chairman of the House Judiciary Committee’s courts and intellectual property subcommittee, said the extensions give American inventors and creators the same copyright protection as those in Europe. The European Union extended its copyrights by 20 years in 1995.

“It gives our intellectual property a fair shake in the rest of the world,” Coble said. “I view this as a no-lose for America.”

The battle for copyright protection pitted well-known corporations like Disney and Time Warner against librarians and consumer organizations. The American Libraries Assn., for example, asked its 54,000 individual members to call their local lawmakers and urge them to reject the change.

“You have to have some sort of incentive for people to write books and create films, but it’s not supposed to go on forever,” said Jamie Love, director of the Consumer Product on Technology, a group affiliated with consumer advocate Ralph Nader. “It’s supposed to enter the public domain, and everyone is supposed to have access to it.”