Disney's being sued by a kids' hospital that has the rights to the Peter Pan novels. The hospital says that the 1998 Sonny Bono term-extension (a law that Disney bought in order to ensure that its earliest cartoons didn't enter the public domain) covers the Peter Pan stories and so Disney owes it royalties on a sequel that a publishing subsidiary put out. Disney says that the law doesn't cover the Pan books — and that it should know, since it paid for that law! — and now they're going to court.
As Lessig notes, Disney is right — the Pan books are public domain. But as Jason Schultz demonstrates, the temptation to wax neener-neener here is nigh-insurmountable ("When will Disney stop stealing from the public domain? I mean really, it's just like taking a CD from a record store without paying for it… except that the record store owner is dead… and well, the store is really the compendium of human knowledge.. and the CD is part of our collective cultural history. Whatever. Theft is Theft, right?")
This weekend sees the UK premiere of a film about Barrie's life, "Finding Neverland" — starring Johnny Depp, Kate Winslet and Dustin Hoffman. The hospital will receive royalties from book excerpts portrayed in the film.
But the hospital charity says is getting nothing from "Peter and the Starcatchers" — which has been on the New York Times best seller lists, has had an extensive author tour and has its own Web site. They say the book has been published without its permission.
A spokesman for the hospital told CNN that Great Ormond Street held the copyright to Peter Pan in the United States until 2023 — although it runs out in EU countries in 2007 — and said: "We are considering our options."
Disney, meanwhile, has insisted that Peter Pan is out of copyright in the United States.
"The copyright to the J.M. Barrie stories expired in the U.S. prior to 1998, the effective date of the U.S. Copyright Extension Act, and thus were ineligible for any extension of their term," Disney said in a statement to the Daily Telegraph.