Appendix A - For Fuck's Sake, Let These Copyrights Expire

"Roger Meyers Sr., the gentle genius behind Itchy and Scratchy, loved and cared about almost all the peoples of the world." - Narrator of The Roger Meyers Story

At the moment, six major Hollywood studios are responsible for almost every big budget movie released in the United States. All of them are relatively minor subsidiaries of much larger conglomerates. 

Studio

2015 Box Office

Owned By

Owner's 2015 Revenue

Box Office As % of Owner's Revenue

Warner Brothers

$1.6 Billion

Time Warner

$28.1 Billion

5.7%

Buena Vista

$2.3 Billion

Disney

$52.0 Billion

4.4%

20th Century FOX

$1.3 Billion

Rupert Murdoch

$37.6 Billion

3.4%

Universal

$2.4 Billion

Comcast

$74.5 Billion

3.2%

Paramount

$0.7 Billion

Sumner Redstone

$27.2 Billion

2.6%

Columbia

$1.0 Billion

Sony

$72.7 Billion

1.3%

(Studio box office numbers taken from boxofficemojo.com. Revenue numbers are from marketwatch.com. Time Warner [TWX], Comcast [CMSCA], and Disney [DIS] are direct. Sony [SNE] revenue converted from 8.24 Trillion Yen. Revenue for Murdoch is calculated as News Corp [NWSA] + 21st Century Fox [FOX]. Revenue for Redstone is CBS Corporation [CBS] + Viacom [VIA].)

The above chart doesn't represent all studio revenue, of course. Home video isn't in there, nor is the far juicier category of merchandising. And the figures above are gross revenue, not net; so a particularly profitable year for a studio could easily make it a bigger percentage of overall company profits. But for the movie going public, the above is a decent representation of what your ticket purchase really means to the assholes in charge: very little.

These are the people Abrams works for. All of his movies except Star Wars 7 were produced for Paramount. That film's nearly one billion dollars of box office revenue was for Disney, and represented less than two cents of every dollar they took in last year.

The entertainment press will report on which studio does best each year, and every Monday countless outlets will analyze which movie was #1 at the box office, a meaningless metric relentlessly promoted so that the public can feel like insiders while they talk about the movie business. But as the chart above demonstrates, all of that is just so much window dressing.

The great and powerful studios are just small cogs in larger machines, and the workings of those machines often range from shady to outright harmful. To take just one recent example, in January of 2016, the do gooders at Amnesty International published a report about the slave like conditions of the children who mine the cobalt that goes into electronics for many major manufacturers, including Sony. Its products and the raw materials that supply them are produced in factories, mines, and refineries at which most American moviegoers wouldn't be able to physically last a single shift.

After taking over his father's theater business, Sumner Redstone spent decades assembling a media conglomerate that has been at the forefront of dismantling the laws that used to prevent an individual from controlling so much of what ordinary people see and hear. Along the way, CBS News, once the gold standard of American broadcast journalism, got turned into a hollow shell of itself thanks to its parent company deciding that news wasn't a necessary public service, but another means of profit.

Rupert Murdoch's longstanding contempt for anyone and everyone is well known. A brief highlight list includes not only media amalgamation, but using his tabloids to buy influence with governments all over the world, illegally spying on people he perceives as his enemies, and using his almost unmeasurable reach to deny climate change. If he is remembered at all a hundred years from now, it will be as a monster.

Comcast and Time Warner are monopolistic cable giants that routinely rank at the dead bottom of customer satisfaction surveys for the simple reason that screwing their customers is their business model. Internet connections in the United States are much slower and more expensive than those in other wealthy countries thanks in large part to the owners of Batman and those delightful Jurassic Park dinosaurs. 

And then there's Disney. The company has been seriously accused of all kinds of evil deeds. Some of this is goofy, "think of the children!" nonsense from Jebus prudes like the Catholic League and the Southern Baptist Convention. But a lot of it is practical and substantive, everything from mistreating the various animals it owns to shitting on its employees, from white collar people whom they rig the visa system to replace with cheaper immigrants to sweatshop laborers who sometimes die by the hundreds for merchandise production.

More widespread but less immediately harmful is the way they have almost singlehandedly corrupted the copyright system of the United States. As badly as Disney ripped off George Lucas and that charity he gave their money to,* that was pennies on the dollar compared to how much public property they've privatized away from the rest of us.

(*They paid $4 Billion for Star Wars. According to a market research firm MoffettNathanson, they've already netted $1.3 billion, and that comes with this leviathan of an asterisk in the New York Times: "Total merchandise revenue is far greater, but most of it goes to a different Disney unit, Disney Consumer Products and Interactive Media". Media conglomerates really do hide money better than the mafia.)

Copyright was invented hundreds of years ago to protect and promote people's creativity by ensuring that they'd get paid for their work. That was before we had immortal people (in the form of incorporated businesses). These days, instead of paying authors and creators, copyright pays shareholders who had nothing to do with the original work. Mickey Mouse, the rock upon which Disney is founded, was copyrighted in 1928. Under the terms of the law then in effect, the maximum amount of time until he became public domain (like Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and Hamlet) was 56 years. Mickey should've become public in 1984, which was eighteen years after Walt Disney himself died.

Gene Roddenberry has been dead for twenty-five years. His wife, Majel Barrett-Roddenberry, has been dead for eight years. And under the copyright law that existed for most of the twentieth century, their heirs would still control Star Trek for another six years. That certainly seems like more than fair compensation.

Instead, Disney has managed to bribe Congress into extending the copyright term just ahead of their mouse two times so far, and they're getting ready to do it again before 2023. This has kept not only Mickey, but other popular and beloved characters like Superman and Batman from their rightful owners: all of us. Without the Disney company's meddling, anyone would be able to tell a Star Trek story after 2022; with it, Sumner Redstone and his fantastically wealthy heirs - who had fuck all to do with Star Trek being created - will be the only ones.

Characters who live in the minds and imaginations of billions of people, most of the creators of whom are long dead, are owned perpetually by conglomerates that not only behave inhumanely and unethically, but view beloved fictional characters as nothing more than line items on a spreadsheet. With its constant gun fights, contempt for storytelling, and insults to elementary science, it's doubtful Gene Roddenberry would even recognize a calculated and mercenary effort like Into Darkness as Star Trek. And say what you want about George Lucas, but he cares about that galaxy far far away in a manner that Disney's accounting department never can.

Keeping all these ideas behind lock and key just so Disney can keep anyone from ever drawing a Mickey Mouse cartoon is stupid beyond description.

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Other mini-books by Charlie Sweatpants:
Zombie Simpsons (<- Simpsons fans, click here)
Tapped In (<- Simpsons Tapped Out players, click here)