Proponents of intellectual property laws concerned about creators being properly credited and compensated for their work are coming from the right place. In reality, the perpetuation of IP laws in the media has nothing to do with giving the artists their due, but media conglomerates gaining uncompetitive advantages against original artists. In the process, the industry is strangled. The pathetic state of the film industry is just one outcome of this. Let’s look at why.
1. IP Laws Incentivise Remake Culture
Arguably, Disney is the worst culprit of intellectual property cronyism. Back before the rise of digital media, Disney used to re-release their classic material in movie theatres every seven years. This was to keep their characters and brand in the cultural milieu, introducing new generations to the Disney classics. Now we’ve had VHS, DVD, and streaming services come along, children have already seen the classics 23 times over. Disney has got its market penetration, but little profit.
Their response is to dig up their old IP and re-package it. The Lion King is the latest in a long line of Disney remakes of classic animated films, none of which have changed the face of cinema by any means. They add nothing to the story and don’t improve upon what was actually just fine in the first place.
People go to see remakes from any studio because they suggest something that was once great, but they’re not edified by them. Moreover, audiences are robbed of something original that might have inspired them in new and exciting ways.
If you’re skeptical, imagine a world where any studio was permitted to make a Lion King movie. They couldn’t kick back, like Disney does, in the expectation of guaranteed profits. The safe, boring remake wouldn’t stand out amongst the crowd of Lion King-inspired cinema. Studios would be compelled to create something original.
2. Spiderman Might Not Be In The Avengers Much Longer
A public falling out between Disney and Sony preceded the threat that Spiderman, whose IP rights are owned by Sony, may no longer feature in Disney’s Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) films. This dismayed the fans of the new Tom Holland adaptation and its integration into the MCU.
The companies have put their differences aside for now, and at least one more movie will come of the prior “borrowing” arrangement, but the fact that this idiotic artificial separation between universes is even a possibility speaks volumes. It would compound the already decades-long problem of Marvel’s X-Men not existing in the universe of other Marvel films, because the franchise is owned by another corporation.
This beautifully illuminates the absurdity of IP laws. The audience knows what they want. The creators are ready to give it to them. The only thing in the way is the intransigent corporate big wig empowered by monopolistic legislation. In what way does society benefit from the world’s best storytellers being throttled in their artistic ambition?
3. Corporations Want To Make It Harder For Us To Watch Classic Movies
It’s already difficult enough for us to access films older than the year 2000. Netflix seems to care very little about older material if there isn’t potential for future exploitation of IP. There’s only a few in the canon that get regular re-showings in any form. Cineastes understand this more than others, as we are willing to go back where others daren’t. But we all pay the price by not having exposure to old cinema.
The smattering of older classics typically available on streaming services include things like Die Hard, Indiana Jones, and Aliens. But guess what? All of these properties are now owned by Disney, thanks to the recent buying up of 20th Century Fox and LucasFilm.
Vulture recently reported that theatres are being denied permission to screen classics from the Fox back catalog, including beloved films such as Home Alone and Planet of the Apes. The justification given to the theatre owners, if any, are contradictory. We have to speculate. As Matt Zoller Seitz says in the piece, it’s plausible that Disney are withholding the content to promote their new subscription service, Disney+. Yet, it’s hard to imagine that audiences would forgo the subscription for an occasional trip to the cinema.
The more likely explanation is that this is part of Disney’s strategy to go all-out on screening bookings. They want their product in every theatre possible, as many screens as possible, not only for penetration, but to crowd-out movies from competitors. Within that category of movies competing for the audience’s eyes might well be the Fox back catalog. Why would discerning moviegoers choose another mediocre Disney remake over The Princess Bride?
This has not about protecting artists. This is an attempt to manufacture scarcity.
The ideal scenario, that would simultaneously save movie theatres and introduce the classics to new generations, is to allow theatres to screen whatever movie they want without fear of prosecution. Admit it: It sounds great.
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