This article is written by Vasundhra Thakur, pursuing a Diploma in Intellectual Property, Media and Entertainment Laws from LawSikho.
“The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing”- Walt Disney
What comes to your mind when someone says, Disney? The dreamland where we all wanted to be ever since we were kids. The Mickey Mouse clubhouse, the cute dwarfs of Snow White, the magical world of prince and princess, the dreamy jungle where birds sing, the fantasy land of our superheroes, the action of wonder woman or simply the magical kingdom called “Disneyworld”.
From classic animated pictures to modern-day movie masterpieces, Disney has made it possible and accessible to anyone with a big display screen to something as pocket-size as our mobile phones. But what’s the story behind this success and how the Walt Disney Company can provide us with access to our little world of fantasy into modern-day reality?
A company which was established almost a century ago by ‘Walt Disney’ is presently amongst one of the largest mainstream media powerhouses of the world and how does Disney acquire all these that made it different from the most. Well, the answer is simple ‘Walt Disney Company’s business activities’ of capitalising in technology and Intellectual Properties.
A timeline to Disney’s success
- First Production company ‘Laugh-O-Grams’
In 1919 Walt Disney started working on his creation and made cartoons which were called “Laugh-O-Grams’ this name became Walt’s first animation studio. He hired animators for the production of his first based on the 1869 novel ‘Alice’s Adventure in Wonderland’ putting a live-action character into the animated world but this plan didn’t work due to bankruptcy faced by Disney in 1923.
- Walt Disney Company
After the failure of his earlier project, Walt made his way to Hollywood, as it was the center of the cartoon industry of that time. He managed to sell half of Alice’s Wonderland to a New York film distributor landing a contract for two seasons. He teamed up with his brother and formed ‘Walt Disney Company’.
In 1927, Walt started making his original purely animated series. His first project was a series of short animated series called ‘Oswald The Rabbit’ which was distributed by Universal. At the time of renewal of the contract, Universal refused and decided to produce characters itself, as it was the common practice then the distributors owned the complete rights over the characters.
- The Revolutionary innovation- Mickey Mouse and synchronise sound
In 1928, Walt created a new Character called ‘Mickey’ and capitalised into a brand new technology that was incorporated at that time in the film industry ‘Sound’. Disney was the pioneer in synchronising sound with the cartoon characters. Mickey and synchronise sound made Disney world famous.
- First full coloured feature animated film- Snow White and the seven dwarfs
In 1934, Disney produced its first full coloured feature animated film costing 1.5 million dollars called Snow White (1937) followed by Pinocchio, Fantasia in 1940.
- Disney Theme Parks
Traditionally, amusement parks were only for children which live tag alone parents, nothing else to do. Disney envisioned a place where both parents and children can share the experience together. This place was named ‘Disneyland’. At present Disney has 12 Theme Parks across the world.
- Pioneer to ‘360 degree’ is a technology then called ‘Circle vision 360’
In 1959, Disney became the pioneer in introducing a technology called ‘Circle-Vision 360’ that uses nine cameras stitched together for 360 videos for nine screens in a custom theatre.
- Electromechanical Robot
In 1963, Disneyland featured an Electromechanical Robot. That was the first time people saw lifelike technology.
Disney is a massive media powerhouse. It has ownership in companies like ESPN, Pixar Animation, Vice Media, Marvel, Hollywood Records, ABC News and the list goes on. Disney is not restricted to Television or Cartoons, it has mass media ownership, most of the creative contents we see are owned by Disney. It is a pioneer in innovation and technology, and also anything we see is mostly owned by Disney.
Role of Intellectual Property Rights
As discussed in the previous section, Disney owes the majority of its success to the Intellectual Properties it owns. Intellectual Property is a product of human intellect it includes creative concepts, inventions, industrial models, trademarks, sounds, literature, designs, technology. The creators of such intellectual properties are bestowed with the rights to safeguard them from public exploitation such rights are called Intellectual Property Rights.
There are various kinds of Intellectual Property Rights as per the product, service, technology, creative work.
Disney holds numerous copyrights and trademarks that restrict the use of Disney’s character and image. They have advanced technologies that notify them from time to time if any infringement or violation of their IPRs takes place.
Let’s discuss in brief some of the intellectual properties Disney owns.
Copyrights are the original creation of creators of any literary, music, dramatic, technology-based works such as database, computer programmes, architectural designs, cinematography work.
Disney holds Character Rights over thousands of its characters like Mickey Mouse, Winnie the Pooh, Marvels. It holds Merchandising Rights to exploit, sell, license its movie dialogues, character images. It holds all the distribution and Production Rights over its movies, series, prequels and sequels.
Trademark is a mark that distinguishes the goods and/or services of one proprietor from that of the other. Trademarks include designs, logos, character, symbol, word or a phrase. Disney currently has over 6000 registered trademarks across the globe.
In Disney enterprise Inc & Anr vs Gurcharan Batra & Ors, the defendant was for selling counterfeit products bearing Disney characters a degree for damages was passed against the defendant in the tune of Rs. 1,00,000/- by the honourable Delhi High Court.
Patents are exclusive rights granted for an invention, a product or service which can provide solutions to technical problems.
The Walt Disney Company is a pioneer in innovation and creativity. They own 2225 active Patents worldwide which are protected by the U.S. Patent and Trademark office.
Some of the patents own by Disney are:
- Content editing during the broadcast.
- Methods and systems for conducting multi-user interactions on a device using biometric authentication.
- Virtual reality and/or augmented reality viewer having variable transparency.
Here are some of the Copyright infringement cases that shows how Disney is protective of its IPRs:
Disney Enterprises, Inc. vs. Mouseprint Media LLC- In 2020, Disney won the lawsuit against Florida-based retailer Mouseprint Media also known as ‘DisGear’ for using its copyrighted images from Disney movies such as Star Wars, as a result, Disgear had to shut down and give over their merchandise.
Disney’s Cars vs. Chinese Autobots- In 2016, Disney and Pixar Animation won a lawsuit against a Chinese producer Bluemtv and distributor G-Point over Disney’s animated movie characters and posters. The Shanghai Court ordered a payout of $190,000 for copyright infringement.
How does Disney retain its relevance in current times
Disney for some of us is classic cartoons and for some the modern-day movie masterpieces. It’s been 97 years since Walt Disney company came into existence and even after all these years, two major factors made Disney relevant in current times of course apart from Walt Disney’s vision and perfectionism or failure and persistence. First, Disney’s strategic investments in Technological Innovation and Second, Intellectual Property Rights and third the principle called First mover advantage.
- Disney’s strategic investments in Technological innovation
Walt Disney was an ambitious innovator which has made him invest in huge state-of-the-art technology. In 1959 he was the pioneer in introducing a 360 video circle vision which uses nine cameras stitched together for nine screens in custom theatre.
- Intellectual Property Rights
Disney has always been particular about its intellectual property rights. It has invested millions of dollars in acquiring copyrights, trademark, patents. It owns Character Rights, Distribution rights, merchandising rights, production rights over thousands of characters and movies.
- FirstMover advantage
First mover advantage is a principle where the first mover in the market to introduce a product or service gains a competitive advantage over others. Back in 1928, Walt Disney was the pioneer to introduce ‘sound’ in animation while he started the production of Mickey Mouse, a revolutionary innovation pushing the boundaries of animation by synchronising sounds with action. He even used his voice for the character of ‘Mickey Mouse’.
From time to time Disney has acquired several media & entertainment companies. It has invested millions of dollars in acquiring some of the classics and modern age movies. Recently, Disney was merged with an Indian OTT platform “Hotstar” combined it is called Disney Plus Hotstar with currently 300 million active users, providing both domestic as well as international content.
With all these technological advancements Disney retains its position with growing its market standing not only by persistence but its protection over their creations. A domain of Intellectual Property Rights that has given the world user-friendly experiences. A company which feels like our own and all the characters that represents its proprietor Walt Disney’s vision.
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