Your argument for Disney’s level of evil leaves something to be desired

Nov 18, 2008   //   by Alida   //   Creative Discontent, Culture, Music  //  2 Comments

I was browsing through some random websites earlier this week, and I came across a site was full of “evidence” of how evil Walt Disney was (and Disney as a corporation is). It had some of the more common stories, but the one I found most amusing is that “Walt Disney was evil because he chose music by dead composers for Fantasia so that he wouldn’t have to pay for the music.”

While it’s true that Disney (as a company) has an incredibly powerful legal team that understands the inner workings of copyright law better than just about anyone else anywhere, it makes me laugh that using public domain music is evidence of evil. How is it not an artist’s prerogative to choose to either have new work commissioned, support currently established composers, or reintroduce the public to classical works? Any of those three options, especially with the scope of Disney’s influence, had the potential for significant ramifications within the artists’ careers (if new work had been commissioned or contemporary work used) and the public consciousness and awareness of the music scene, even though the film was originally not as well-received as hoped.


Most artists have at least some understanding of public domain, even if they don’t understand copyright law as a whole. In general, with written works, at least, once the author has been dead for 70 years, the work passes into public domain, meaning that royalties are not paid. Therefore, royalties are not paid on a Shakespeare play, for instance (unless it’s an adaptation or translation, in which case, royalties are paid to the publisher of the translator).

I have no doubt that fiscal choices informed part of Disney’s choice of music for Fantasia, but the fact remains that by using classical music as the score for the movie, a younger generation was introduced to music that they may not have listened to otherwise, especially when the scope of the work is taken in the context of 60 years. Much of the music used may be the most popular classical music, but the fact remains that it’s classical music, and anyone with any sort of musical interest and/or training should have a working knowledge and recognition of those pieces. There’s merit in perpetuating the knowledge of the roots of modern music history and style, and in using public domain music, Disney allowed that.

This website (and I really can’t remember the address) was obviously out to prove that Disney is eeeeevvvviiillll and is out to destroy the world. Eh. I like Disney. I also like emerging, independent art. The two are not mutually exclusive.

However, if they really wanted to talk about Disney and copyright law, they should have mentioned this: Copyright laws are radically changing with digital technology. The entire art world works differently and sources material in different ways than it used to, and that radically changes the way copyright is viewed. While it may seem that a “hard” copyright law is best for artists, in many ways, that’s not the case. However, every few years, the parameters for work in the public domain changes. One of the reasons why? It’s revisited (with pressure from Disney’s legal team) every time Mickey Mouse and Steamboat Willie are about to enter the public domain.

In my opinion, if the author of that website was looking to tie Disney into copyright law, this is a much more compelling “Disney is evil!” argument than the fact that Fantasia uses public domain music.

(Also, this is one reason why many support a dual-layered approach to copyright. The challenge is finding a middle ground where independent artists who are hampered by a hard copyright law are allowed freedom and protected within the flexibility of such a stance, and yet the large corporations with instantly recognizable symbols [like Mickey Mouse] are protected from the soft copyright that many artists are pushing for.)

2 Comments

  • Plus, Fantasia included a sequence set to Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, and he was still alive!

  •  i haven’t seen the website about disney being evil so i can’t comment on it…but i live in orlando and everyone here knows how badly they pay their employees…their idea of a living wage is a bad joke

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