Author Topic: DM24 Pooh-blic Domain  (Read 8359 times)

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Offline Daen

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DM24 Pooh-blic Domain
« on: March 11, 2022, 07:22:41 AM »
Daen's Musings #24 Pooh-blic Domain

Even though I've been writing stories for years, I never really thought of public vs private domain, or what it meant, until recently. Probably because I'm not that popular, so it would likely never come up in my life. Also probably because I'm always obsessing about language, and the word 'domain' suggests dominance and control; both things I naturally despise.

Recently, I was reading up on how Winnie the Pooh, Christopher Robin, and all their friends have just become public domain. I say 'just', even though it's probably been a few months by the time this gets posted. I never had a stuffed Pooh-bear as a kid (though I did have a stuffed bear toy). However, I do remember some of the basics of the cartoon. I remember hating Tigger with a deep passion, and feeling a strong kinship with Eeyore. I was kind of 'meh' about the rest, really. Interpret that how you will.

Still, it got me thinking about ownership again. In an earlier Musing, I described how I'm ok with theft, because I'm not ok with ownership. Obviously I was talking about physical objects like food and water, but it extends to intellectual ownership as well.

One of many, many examples of characters that have become public domain is Frankenstein and his monster, originally created by Mary Shelley in 1816. I think I read the original story back in high school, along with stories like Kafka's 'Metamorphosis', and short stories like 'The Ruum'. I didn't think much of it at the time, other than trying to remind myself that the story is about Dr. Frankenstein as well, and not just his creation.

I saw a couple of adaptations of it over the years on the big screen, including a particularly memorable Peter Boyle in Young Frankenstein. Still, the story wasn't that interesting to me, until I saw a variation of it including Daniel Radcliffe. In that one, the main character is unnamed, until Frankenstein gives him the name 'Igor', as a false identity to hide from the police. That story's all about the 'assistant', who ends up being the doctor's real creation.

That really got me thinking. I'd read versions about the monster, and seen versions about the doctor, but I'd never considered the story from the perspective of the assistant. Given how much I read and watch, it's somewhat rare for my consumed media to get me thinking, and that makes it valuable to me. I never would have had that chance, if Shelley's work hadn't entered the public domain a long time ago.

As a writer, the most valuable thing I can think of is getting people to think because of my work. Whether they love or hate it, as long is it has them pondering, it's done its job.

Enter Disney in 1998. They lobbied Congress HARD to allow them to keep the rights to that creepy little mouse, and in the end they succeeded. Basically, the corporation told the whole entertainment industry, "I know you're used to things always being done one way, but we're changing the rules to suit ourselves, and buying the leaders necessary to enforce the new rules."

Not that I'd expect any differently of Disney or any other corporation. Remember, these things exist only to make money, and letting that round-eared little vermin become public domain would have been unprofitable.

All right. Here's the point where you might ask, "Why should I care? How does it affect me if some corporate entity decides to hold onto some idea thought up by some dead guy? How would that harm me?"

Granted, it's not as big a problem as say, climate change, but then none of our other problems are. Still, you might be missing just how big an impact our media has on our culture in general. Take Alice in Wonderland, for example. When I say 'go down the rabbit hole', it would confuse someone who hasn't read that story. They might think I meant a literal rabbit hole, instead of exploring the unknown. Or if I said 'don't look behind the curtain', the nuance would be lost on someone who hadn't seen the Wizard of Oz. If I said 'elementary, my dear Watson,' it would mean nothing to someone who'd never read Sherlock Holmes.

If Sleeping Beauty wasn't in public domain, I'd never be able to tell a story about how deeply problematic it is for a man to kiss her when she's unable to give consent, or how frustrating it is that so many other stories have made their main female characters basically objects to be fought over, simply because of examples like this one.

How much of our society is influenced by characters like Jekyll and Hyde, or Pinocchio? How many of us have been exposed to the fantastical ideas of a giant man like Paul Bunyan, or a wild man like Tarzan? How much of our country's leadership ideals (not reality mind you, just ideals) are based on King Arthur's round table in Camelot, where there is a king, but no head of the table and therefore no leader more important than the others? How many of us see a friend with an obsession, and call them out by telling them not to hunt that white whale, Moby Dick-style? My anti-capitalist philosophy might be described as Robin Hood-esque, if someone didn't look at it too closely. ALL of these are in the public domain!

We're even affected by stories that haven't made it to the public domain yet. There are political terms around like red pilling and blue pilling, even though the Matrix is still solidly private, and the most recent fourth movie is a pretty open allegory about trans people. Which isn't that surprising given the personal histories of the Wachowskis who made it.

My point is this: Even though that suspiciously happy rodent was kept as a money-printing machine for Disney for a while longer, and it's just one example, we can't underestimate just how much we'd be missing out on because of it. There are many, many creative minds out there who would take the furry little freak and make him into something less creepy, or more hilarious, or thought-provoking, or mind-boggling. But those storytellers have to get Disney's permission to try that, which they will most likely not get, because it wouldn't be profitable. Because Disney is greedy, by definition of being a corporation.

Sadly, I can't even predict what we'd be missing out on, because that would be like trying to predict the future. Or more accurately, an alternate future to the one we have. I can quote CS Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia and say, "no one is ever told what would have happened", but I can't write my own story about it until 2045! Or 2033 in Britain. Which is really sad, because I had a cool story idea years ago about the upheaval in Narnia after the four monarchs vanished and before the Telmarines invaded. It involved a bird who was shot down by a hungry man, and then that man runs away when the felled bird speaks to him.

I believe that all intellectual property should immediately become public domain. People running companies like Disney believe it should stay private forever. We used to have a compromise between the two philosophies, but things are shifting their way now. They're cheating us, not just out of our money, but out of our very ideas! It's invasive, and evil, and creepy. Even more so than that mouse of theirs.
« Last Edit: July 22, 2022, 05:35:38 AM by Daen »