Before going into the discussion on American consumerism and Disney’s significant contribution to this modern culture, it is important to point out that Disney just like any other company has a financial responsibility to its respective shareholders. There is constant pressure coming from the side of investors and other stakeholders for the Disney business to increase its revenue on a yearly basis. However, the company has a moral responsibility to millions of consumers and Disney fans all over the world, because the company is not selling crude oil, diamonds, or cars.
Disney is selling an experience, one that is based on the innocence of childhood. Imagine how the company adds to the cynicism of this world if the innocent children that once were captivated by Disney movies and music will discover later on that the company wanted nothing more than cold hard cash. In order to demonstrate goodwill, Disney must start somewhere, and the best way to demonstrate a certain level of corporate social responsibility or at least a commitment to help make the world a better place. There is no better way to start than to make a commitment to stop financing a lobby to amend U.S. Copyright Law. The copyright protection for Mickey Mouse, a product that has been registered in the 1920s but continues to enjoy intellectual property protection way beyond the first decade of the 21st century is a testament to corporate greed.
If the issue focuses on companies that sell weapons, industrial grade materials, and construction equipment, the subject matter concerning consumerism will not stick out as a sore thumb so-to-speak. However, Walt Disney is not an ordinary company. Disney products are allowed access to countless homes all over the world on account of the subliminal and overt messages that accompany each video or toy set. Disney is selling an experience, and it is an organization that is not far removed from other groups that capitalize on the power of ideas. In this case, the ideological framework centers on something personal and sensitive and that is the innocence of childhood. Consider for instance what Mickey Mouse stands for in all of its animated films and artworks that are made into book franchises, comic strips and other reading materials. In other words, the company will come across as a hypocrite of the highest order if all it cares about is to make money and the characters, storylines and the children are mere stepping stones in accomplishing that goal.
The idea that Disney is a significant contributor to the evolution of a consumerist-centered culture in American and most of the Western world is nothing new. Children of affluent families from affluent countries all over the world are demanding ridiculously expensive Mickey Mouse toys and related products even if there are other cheaper alternatives. Disney has caused a major and indelible imprint in the psyche of children all over the world with regards to craving for a certain set of products.
Mickey Mouse’s humble beginning was soon eclipsed by the character’s global icon status. Unfortunately, Mickey Mouse’s extraordinary success also intensified the consumerism culture that was well in place in the decade of the 1930s. Consider for instance the following commentary: “By the beginning of 1932 there were twenty-one licensees in the United States alone, most producing a number of Mickey Mouse products. Children could, with enough money, have the image of the mouse on almost all of their possessions – their underwear, pajamas, neckties, handkerchiefs, jewelry, toothbrushes, hot water bottles, bathroom accessories, silverware, china, toys, games, and school supplies”. In this remark, the most problematic aspect is the phrase that says if the children have enough money they could buy all the consumer items that they believed they need. Additional pressure was felt when the company created a theme park called Disneyland. It is indeed interesting to point out that the parents carry the burden of the effective marketing scheme that Disney employed to pick their pockets so-to-speak. It is therefore important to highlight the source of the skyrocketing prices of Disney products, and it is none other than the country’s copyright law.
According to an article that appeared in the online magazine format for Forbes a world-renowned media company, Walt Disney ranked high as one of the most admired companies in terms of corporate social responsibility. After reading through the article to find out what made them gave that kind of distinction to Disney, the answer came out vague, citing that Disney created workplaces that promote the well-being of kids and families. It is hard not to get disappointed with this article if one considers Disneyland as a workplace, and once again the general public fall victim to another Disney charade making people believe that the company is working for them, but in reality it is a self-serving enterprise focused only in making money.
The acerbic reaction made earlier is based on the discovery of a well-kept secret, that U.S. Copyright Laws gets updated and modified every time the copyright protection for the Mickey Mouse character is about to expire. It is interesting to note that the first expiration date for the Mickey Mouse character was set in the year 1978. After this window of time, the beloved Disney icon Mickey Mouse will enter the realm of public domain, and therefore every child, teacher, innovator, and community leader can use the image of Mickey Mouse without having to pay hundreds or even thousands of dollars for the said purpose.
Years before the 1978 deadline, a Disney-funded lobby initiative persuaded the U.S. Congress to amend the Copyright Law and by 1976 Disney’s Mickey Mouse was still under the control of the company for many years to come. The same copyright protection was again supposed to expire in 2003, but an intervention caused another extension. Five years before the said deadline, the U.S. government signed into law another extension and Disney has rights to the Mickey Mouse brand until the year 2023. The extension of the Copyright Law affects not only Disney products but others as well. Here is a commentary that explains the crucial importance of the extended Copyright Law: “Not everybody has been happy about these changes due to our inability to use old work to create new artistic works”. In order to understand the impact of this statement, imagine the positive ramifications if Microsoft’s Operating System’s code enters the public domain. It means that students, researchers, innovators, and creative people can use the “code” as the foundation stone for building greater works of art or better products that will ultimately benefit mankind. In the case of Mickey Mouse, one can imagine the impact if ordinary people can use it to teach impoverished children about animation or computer graphics. However, this is not possible due to Disney’s stranglehold on the idea.
Disney stands for the good and innocence of childhood. The best image to describe this ideal is the Mickey Mouse icon. Imagine what good it can generate if it is allowed to enter the public domain. Imagine how it can curb the endemic problem of consumerism when children from poor families are now able to afford well-crafted Mickey Mouse products at a fraction of the cost because there is no need to pay exorbitant licensing fees. If Disney is serious in its desire to make the world a better place, it must start with a commitment to no longer mess with U.S. Copyright Laws. The company that talks about the importance of sharing and community is slow to demonstrate the same ideal when it really matters.