Copyright law may look like its been through the shredder, clawed at ferociously in recent years by the talons of Napster, bloggers, and Chinese knock-off artists, just to name a few. But big outfits like Warner Bros. keep stitching it back together for one more round in the ring. Because they understand inherently the deep beauty of the concept, which is essentially that you make something just ONCE, and then sell it a billion times. Now that’s a nice business model, and a plethora of $1000-an-hour lawyers are more than eager to help preserve it. Luke Buckmaster at Crikey.com describes in astonishing detail the rationale behind the recent fight between Warner Bros. and Disney over the James Franco frolic Oz: The Great and Powerful. All the attorneys’ arguments are coherent and reasonable in that unhelpful way of unsolvable paradoxes, which court the absurd.
Disney could do worse than to channel Groucho Marx, the best copyright man we know. In a 1946 letter to Warner Bros. (they’ve been at this awhile), Marx–whose movie Night in Casablanca worried Warner because it had released Humphrey Bogart’s Casablanca just four years earlier–questioned the legitimacy of the studio’s claims. “I just don’t understand your attitude,” he wrote, “I’m sure the average movie fan could learn in time to distinguish between Ingrid Bergman and Harpo.” Next he questioned Warner’s use of “brothers,” noting that “we were touring as the Marx Brothers when Vitaphone was still a gleam in the inventor’s eye… and even before us there had been brothers–the Smith Brothers; the Brothers Karamozov; Dan Brothers, an outfielder with Detroit…” Night in Casablanca kept its title.