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“The Walt Disney Company and its subsidiaries own the intellectual property rights to the characters, brands, titles and properties popularly associated with the Disney name and with Disney’s affiliates…titles, characters and other elements from Disney’s television programs, feature-length motion pictures, animated productions, publications, games and music.”(The Walt Disney Company) This claim listed on Disney’s website can be reinforced through one word: hypocrisy. According to writer, Jonathan Lethem, as explained in his article The Ecstasy of Influence, Disney has exhibited instances of plagiarism, unclear to the public’s knowledge, in which cartoon characters have been stolen without permission.
Hypocritically, the major conglomerate has in turn sued other individuals when they have been suspected of plagiarizing Disney characters.
Lethem states, “Disney’s protectorate of lobbyists has policed the resulting cache of cultural materials as vigilantly as if it were Fort Knox-threatening legal action, for instance, against the artist Dennis Oppenheim of the use of Disney characters in a sculpture, and prohibiting the scholar Holly Crawford from using any Disney-related image…” (Lethem, 7) Now, over the course of several decades, The Walt Disney Company as a media conglomerate has been perceived as a stardom for creativity in its production and distribution of entertainment.
Its themes, characters, and narratives that have influenced happiness in families as well as entertainment ideas for other media artists and distributors have allowed the company to arrive at the top of the media pyramid. Lower producers and distributors strive to reach its level, while infants, children, and parents continue to indulge in its evocation of joyful storytelling.
In theme parks, families explore the magical worlds the company has conceived via its innovative tales of wonder and dreams, for example the tales of Cinderella and The Lion King. In Cinderella young girls are allowed to truly visualize the dream of being a damsel-in-distress turned princess, while The Lion King emphasizes wonder in the territory of African animals.
The Walt Disney Company is approximately the world’s ideal media producer and distributor. By several consumers and companies alike, Disney is viewed as the All Seeing Eye over the world’s media industry, as it has accomplished an extensive level of succession to gain global appreciation, and in return, money. More so transparently, it is the equivalent to media companies’ possible maximum status, in which its content is beloved by millions, and thus, ultimately thanked and refueled with millions of dollars. Thus so, less achieved companies in addition to hooked consumers look up to the eye of the pyramid. Yet, contrary to popular belief among consumers and companies alike, based on several recent claims, Disney’s work has been highlighted as recycled, and alleged to being bred from the work of unpopular independent artists. Thus, done so to heighten Disney’s own reputation and appreciation from consumers, and undeniably generate revenue from the stolen ideas. The company’s true tactics diminish the sole reason as to why people have loved and appreciated it.
In this essay, we first address how Disney’s acts of plagiarism should concern not just independent artists but also consumers, then examine several exhibitions in which Disney has thus displayed plagiarism, and finally conclude on not just whether this plagiarism can be fully recognized by the public and thus changed, but also, if so, in what ways. Now, although Disney’s acts of plagiarism may only concern independent artists who are skeptical of working in an industry with major top-of-the-line companies like Walt Disney, it should actually concern anyone who cares about the originality of the content provided by conglomerates and ultimately their ethicality in service. If the general public were in fact aware of Disney’s false display of innovation, it would not appreciate Disney itself anymore, nor its future distributions. The true intents of Disney would be revealed, and familial consumers would delve away from serving the deceptive company in spite of its acts of smothered theft.
Alternatively, this all sounds rather farfetched, and even absurd, as for the several decades that Disney has been providing happiness to families through TV, cinema, merchandise, and amusement parks, how can it be that the eye of the pyramid has been falsely serving? Why would Disney want to be a leader in plagiarism? Clearly, since the general public is not well aware of this, Disney has successfully covered its tracks. The company knows what it is doing. Inevitably, The Walt Disney Company like several other media conglomerates tends to have great control over what it produces and distributes, thus, alluding to the decisions made behind the curtain on whether or not to plagiarize and subsequently release their new content.
According to FreePress.Net, “In many cases, these companies control everything from initial production to final distribution. In the interactive charts below we reveal who owns what.”(FreePress) To begin, we are going to look at an instance of Disney’s plagiarism that involves a claim by an individual named Fariborz Rowshanfekr, who, in 1999, made aware that Disney, unpermitted, took a narrative idea that he sent to them for a Cinderella sequel. He explains that there was not any credit alluded to him for the idea. According to a journal entry by Rowshanfekr himself, Rowshanfekr sent “a synopsis for a sequel to Cinderella animation to Walt Disney in 1999. In response to it, Walt Disney Co. verifies receiving of the synopsis by a registered and numbered letter to Fariborz Rowshanfekr and after that the company also sends two other letters related to the same synopsis to Fariborz Rowshanfekr.”(Internet Archive) As a result, members of the company replied to Rowshanfekr denying ever receiving his later, playing it off as though established company policies would not allow for them to receive such letter.
One could easily argue that this is an occurrence in which an independent artist seeks to gain money from a profiting conglomerate, yet, it is evident in the letters sent in response to Rowshanfekr, that the respondents were juvenilely refuting his claims disrespectfully acting as though their own words are official without reason. One of the responses reads, “There is no similarity between what you describe in that letter, and second, there is no connection, nor could there be, between your letter of October 10. 1999, and the development of the motion picture Cinderella III. Third, there is no similarity between what you describe in that letter and the story of Cinderella III and your vague reference to the device of the past’ does not support your contention of ‘illegal copying.””(Internet Archive)
A further emphasis on Disney’s deception is exhibited through a recent lawsuit involving its unethical mimicking of similar content by an individual animator. According to GMA News Network journalist, Kim Luces, animator Kelly Wilson created an animated short film called The Snowman. She released it at the “54th San Francisco International Film Festival in 2011, in a category where ‘The Snowman’ competed with a short film created by an employee of Pixar Animation Studios (‘Pixar’) – a subsidiary of Disney.”(Wilson) Kelly Wilson explains that the animators had gone as far as approaching her and talking with her about the production. The film depicts a cartoon snowman as it apprehensively travels across a sheet of ice, in an attempt to retrieve its lost carrot nose. To its dismay, several groups of rabbits attempt to retrieve the same carrot for consumption. A conclusion displays the rabbits retrieving the carrot yet they do not consume it. After the snowman saves the rabbits from falling into a broken area of ice, the rabbits agreeably hand the carrot over to the snowman.
Similarly to this uplifting narrative tale, the teaser trailer to Disney’s animated film, Frozen, released in June 2013, depicts the iconic snowman, Olaf, playing the role of the snowman in Wilson’s feature. Frozen’s character Sven, a moose, portrays that of the rabbits. The narrative plays symmetrically to Wilson’s short film, thus, in 2014, Wilson filed a lawsuit. Luces explains, “Independent animator Kelly Wilson sued Walt Disney Company and affiliates on grounds of copyright infringement in the United States Federal Court for allegedly plagiarizing original elements’ of her snowman character in the Frozen movie and trailers.”(Wilson) As of June 2015, the lawsuit was dismissed via dealings between Walt Disney and Wilson outside of court, allowing a sequel to Frozen to be brought forward. The Walt Disney Company has created a distasteful trend for itself, exhibiting plagiarism, stealing from independent artists, and only settling these lawsuits suspiciously out of the public eye, making it seem as if its unethical actions can only be solved in ways that benefit itself.
These dealings seem to be inappropriate for public knowledge, as they may bring negativity to the company’s reputation. A predecessor of this event dates back in 2003 when a French author named Franck Le Calvez ignited a lawsuit in which he claimed that The Walt Disney Company plagiarized his clown fish character in the film Finding Nemo. According to a journal article by journalist Jo Johnson titled Disney Fish Spawns Plagiarism Claims, in 1995, Le Calvez created the clown fish character, Pierrot Le Poisson-Clown. In Paris, he had asked a court to remove Finding Nemo books and other related merchandise from local shops. Furthermore, the similarities between the character Nemo, and Pierrot Le Poisson-Clown disperses farther than similarity in appearance. According to Johnson, “In addition to the fact that both creations have the same three white stripes and bulging orange eyes, Mr. Le Calvez claims there is something fishy about the plot of Finding Nemo. Both heroes live in anemones, lose a parent to predators and encounter cleaning prawns.” (Johnson)
As usual, Disney simply denied these claims, and the general public has thus far remained rather unaware of this. Disney’s influence on its global consumers is so great, that it can easily prevent breaches like the several cases displayed thus far from being prominently known. Johnson further emphasized that, “After failing to interest domestic production companies in his Pierrot screenplay, which he had registered with the French Society of Authors in June 2002, Mr. Le Calvez turned it into a children’s book, which sold out that November.”(Johnson) It is implied that Le Calvez’s character and narrative was rather in the minority of public awareness, seemingly taking the role of independent publication. In his article, Johnson continued whilst mentioning that Le Calvez’s “lawyers say that even though Finding Nemo was finished by the time the book came out, the idea must have been passed on by one of the production companies approached after 1995.”(Johnson) The apparent “passing on” of an independent idea to the possession may presumably resemble the alleged process in which Kelly Wilson’s snowman idea was “passed on” to Pixar animators of Frozen during the San Francisco Film Festival.
Of course, Disney was able to gain a huge profit from these films further supporting the alleged ultimate goal, as Johnson explains, “Finding Nemo was created by Steve Job’s Pixar Animation Studios, whose five films have been released by Walt Disney Pictures and have earned more than $2.2 billion at the worldwide box office.” In addition to this earlier incident involving The Walt Disney Company and plagiarism, in 1994, the globally beloved film The Lion King was found guilty of having aspects mimicked from a Japanese comic strip. According to a journal article by journalist Yasue Kuwahara titled Japanese Culture and Popular Consciousness: Disney’s The Lion King vs. Tezuka’s Jungle Emperor, “comic artists and fans protested that the Disney film too closely resembled Jungle Emperor, a comic epic saga and television series created by their beloved artist, the late Osamu Tezuka. Their protest little harm to box office receipts and the enthusiastic support and popularity the Disney Company had received for The Lion King in Japan” (Kuwahara).
The article dives deep into Disney’s presumable plagiarism, first noting that The Lion King’s original title was The King of the Jungle. That alone creates intense suspicion against Disney’s copying of the Japanese comic. Even so, the actual non-coincidental similarities involve the characters and settings. Kuwahara alludes that Japanese artist and organizer of the protest, Machiko Satonaka made specific awareness of these similarities. In August of 1994, Satonaka created a petition against the film and proposed a letter to Disney in which she explained that, “these characters include a baboon as an old sage, a hornbill as a comical character, and hyenas as an evil force.
Additionally, The Lion King’s Scar resembles the evil lion Bubu in Jungle Emperor, in that both are dark and have a distinctive mark in their left eyes. As to the setting, the television series and the movie both use the rocky terrain, although lions actually live in savanna. Other similarities pointed out by Satonaka include the names of lion cubs (Simba and Kimba) and the fact that the lions eat insects to supplement their dietary needs for protein (Kiriyama 206).”(Kuwahara). The Walt Disney Company simply denied from ever having knowledge of Jungle Emperor, and subsequently the majority of the public and non-supporters of Satonaka’s protest believed Disney. Ultimately, Disney was able to keep the protest underway, in order to prevent their reputation unhindered. As present in Wilson’s lawsuit, Rowshanfekr, Le Calvez’s lawsuit, and Satonaka’s protest and letter, Disney has been able to make it so that their films remain successful and beloved. Explaining this, Kuwahara writes, “While Japanese mass media continued to cover the controversy surrounding The Lion King through the fall, the protest never became bigger than Satonaka’s letter to Disney and seemed to have been dropped by all those who were concerned by the end of 1994.”
How is Disney able to easily tip-toe out of trouble? It is easy to believe that Disney is able to do so because it is, as stressed, the eye of the pyramid; the beloved god-like company who others beneath it do not want to tackle with. Disney’s power and influence on its consumers, its well perceived reputation, and its high social and economic statuses are so great that they threaten any legal actioner from poking Disney where it hurts. At the end of the day, when approaching its offenders, Disney successfully closes off its relation simply be saying “we weren’t aware.” Some experts in plagiarism argue that plagiarized concepts, particularly writing ideas, cannot be avoided. In the journal article Plagiarism, originality, and assemblage by journalist Johndan Johnson-Eilola, a quote from the author Philip B. Meggs is alluded to. Meggs emphasizes the impossible escape from plagiarism explaining, “While designing Transworld Skateboarding magazine from 1983–87, [David] Carson often found it necessary to design with existing photographs of marginal quality. He confronted a perpetual challenge in trying to invent a way to make the photograph and layout more interesting and dynamic for the viewer.
Photographs become raw material vulnerable to extension and improvement through processes used by graphic designers to create pages-image selection, cropping, juxtaposition, overlapping, bleeding, collaging, scale change, and integration with other elements.”(Johnson Eilola) While this may support the idea that The Walt Disney may simply have just conceived similar ideas from other artists, and even more so support Disney’s responses that “we weren’t unaware”, the evidence against idea remains strong. For example, as mentioned, The Lion King’s initial title was The King of the Emperor. Strong resemblance to Osamu’s comic Jungle Emperor makes it evident that there certainly was awareness between the two entities’ similarities. Following, the presence of Pixar animators at the San Francisco International Film Festival in 2011 also makes it evident that Disney was well aware of Kelly Wilson’s short film and Frozen’s questionable resemblance to it.
Fortunately although lacking, the government controlled site SBA.gov lists several ways in which independent artists and distributors can protect their work from entities like The Walt Disney Company. SBA.gov offers steps that can be taken to obtain trademarks, patents, and copyrights. Yet, these suggestions provided do not seem to stop Disney from being able to simply be excused by “unawareness.” The voices of these independent artists are not loud enough, not even Satonaka’s protests, as Disney has still been able to outshine them and their public attention. Disney’s productions have continued to gain profit, while these independent artists are ignored and shut up. Consequently, after several of these instances, consumers continue to indulge in the company’s services and products, as their reason for doing so has not been changed.
The truth that Walt Disney’s originality and innovation in content has rather been unethically mimicked from aspiring artists has easily been wiped clean from most of the public’s field of view by the company and its influential power and image. Experts on plagiarism spend their time discussing ways in which the copying of script can be avoided, as opposed to researching greater ways in which theft of intellectual property can be avoided, as the latter issue seems to be less common thanks to The Walt Disney Company’s behavior. Decades into Disney’s lifespan, given its rep, any current claims made against the company may presumably be furthermore ignored or buried in deep. The best ways artists can prevent their work from being stolen, as stated by the SBA, are “filing for patents, trademarks or copyrights”(SBA.gov). The only subsequent option they have is to be more aware and vigilant when sharing, storing, and distributing their work. Additionally, consumers who appreciate Disney for its believed creative nature, on the other hand, if made knowledgeable about the company’s acts of theft are left to make the decision firsthand on whether or not to support and exhibit the company’s distributions.
10 Ultimately, unethical company’s like Disney that use deception to increase their position on the media industry’s hierarchy should truly be discontinued, as they only hinder the work of smaller pursuers whilst gaining money to not just repeat the process, but to individually serve each company member favorably. The use of deception and exhibition of unethicality alludes to nothing less than that. In a journal article titled In the Matter of Plagiarism … Practice Makes Imperfect, writer Wallace Koehler explains that, “Fair use of intellectual property is undergoing redefinition. Simply put, there are those who seek to restrict fair use within very limited parameters. There are others who seek to liberalize its application.
Generally speaking, the owners of intellectual property propose more restrictive interpretations while users prefer a more liberal interpretation. We suggest that a new fair use doctrine is emerging through the tensions applied by the interested parties.” Here he concludes whilst introducing that plagiarizing individuals remain more relaxed about other individuals’ content so they can copy it for their own use, while their own work they remain strict about. This mirrors The Walt Disney Company as first introduced in this essay. As stressed, Disney remains strict of its own characters, yet, as made evident up to this point, remains relaxed with the work of others. The company, as big as it is, can never be discontinued or unsupported, yet only consumers, independent artists, distributors, and media conglomerates in the minority can either protect themselves or stop supporting Disney to prevent it from continuing its excused plagiarism.
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