Mickey Mouse Bill

May 6, 2008

Robert Genn

The principle of post-monetization says that nothing is worth
anything until somebody wants it. Those of us who make art for
a living--outside of commissioned work--essentially operate on
this principle. We make the stuff and put it out there. When
somebody decides, for whatever reason, they want it, then the
amount they are willing to pay is exactly the value at that
time. If we choose to resell, reproduce or replicate, that's
our business too. We still own the copyright. 

The convention of putting a little c with a circle around it
became redundant in the U.S. in 1976. In current copyright law,
every drawing, painting, photograph, poem or play is simply
owned by you the author. If somebody swipes it, or uses it
without your permission, you have the law on your side to chase
them down and get paid.

That's why the current Orphan Works Act now being considered by
the U.S. Congress is particularly baffling. Promoted by
dough-head non-artists who are obviously listening to big-time
lobbyists, this bill says that you the artist must now
officially register every single work you wish to protect. The
on-line registries, presumably fee based, haven't yet been

Big boys like Disney have always felt the necessity to register
copyrights. Can you imagine what's involved in owning and
protecting Mickey Mouse? That's why I'm calling this the Mickey
Mouse Bill. It continues to protect Mickey but leaves little
guys like you and me with another layer of paperwork and
expense. While in the guise of a last ditch attempt to locate
and release unclaimed (orphaned) work, it's my opinion this is
very bad legislation indeed. If someone can tell me the
possible value of the Orphan Works Act, I'd really appreciate

Post-monetization is our life blood. The choice to defend an
extant work should always be in the hands of the creator or his
assigns. That's why the current law works so well. A few years
ago a car company decently asked me if they might use one of my
(already sold) paintings in the background of a car ad. I named
a reasonable fee and they readily agreed. We used a "one time
only" contract and we didn't even use a lawyer. If the Orphan
Works Act becomes law, without an author's prior registration,
Mercedes-Benz could just help themselves. No ask. No pay. Nutz.

Best regards,


PS: "The problem is that very few of the billions of images
will ever be registered. No artist that I know of has the time
to pull out every work of art they have ever produced and
register them with all the upcoming electronic databases."
(Mark Simon, artist advocate)

Esoterica: The advent of the Internet has been somewhat
responsible for this turn of events. Some pundits think we're
about to enjoy the sunset of copyright. As it is, Chinese
artists are ripping jpegs from the Western Internet, cloning
and reselling our stuff like crazy. We can't get at them
because they're in another jurisdiction. Now the U.S. wants
this in their jurisdiction? Nutz. In the meantime the big boys
like Google and Microsoft would like to see Mickey Mouse
happen. They've got the deep pockets to get what they want. I
don't know about you, but I haven't, and besides, I don't like
filling out forms.