FREE MICKEY: Disney & Copyright

aka, Free Willie

This comic is included in my best-of comic collection Everything You Didn’t Ask For.

I did a little research into how much money Disney has earned over the years using public domain stories as sources for their movies. I couldn’t find one handy list, so these figures are cobbled together from a bunch of different sites. These dollar amounts may or may not include overseas sales or DVD/VHS sales, may or may not be ‘adjusted box office’ numbers, and don’t even touch upon merchandising. It’s just to give you a slight glimpse at the huge profits Disney has reaped by creating derivative works based on ‘free’ public domain material. Their true profits are obviously much higher than the numbers listed here:

20,000 Leagues Under The Sea (released after Verne’s book passed into public domain) $11.2 million
Aladdin (Arab folk tale from 1001 Arabian Nights) $504 million
Beauty and the Beast (French folk tale) $145 million domestic / $403 million worldwide
Cinderella (French folk tale) $85 million domestic (theatrical)
Hercules (Character in Greek mythology) $253 million
The Jungle Book (released after Kipling’s book passed into public domain) $141.8 million
The Little Mermaid (Fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen) $211 million
Mulan (Chinese folk tale) $120 million domestic / $304 million worldwide
Pocahontas (American folk tale inspired by real event) $141.5 million domestic / $346 million worldwide
The Princess and the Frog (Grimm brothers’ The Frog Prince) $104 million domestic / $267 million worldwide
Robin Hood (English folk tale) couldn’t find any box office info
Snow White (Folk tale collected by Brothers Grimm) Adjusted Gross: $782 million
Sleeping Beauty (Perrault and Basile, Grimm) Adjusted Gross: $521 million
Tangled (Brothers Grimm’s Rapunzel, based on a German folk tale) $477 million as of February 6, 2011
Treasure Island (released after Robert Louis Stevenson’s book passed into the public domain) couldn’t find any box office info
and lastly, Tinkerbell, one of Disney’s many mascots, is a public domain character from J. M. Barrie’s Peter and Wendy.

The aim of this post is not to diminish the creative work that Disney has put into these films (seriously, there are some bona fide classics on this list). It’s to simply point out that they (and other corporations like them) need to relinquish their hold on their older works, to give American citizens the same opportunities the Disney Corp. continues to take advantage of. Because before the corporate manipulation of copyright law, it was our right.

To see what other works could have entered the public domain if not for the corporate manipulation of copyright laws, check out the Duke University’s Center for the Study of the Public Domain: 2011 | 2012 | 2013 | 2014