Only Trump can protect us from Chinese Snow Whites

Disney vows to take action over a “Snow White” that appeared in a Chinese theme park:

Walt Disney Co. said it’s prepared to take action to protect its intellectual property rights after performers dressed as Snow White and Captain America were sighted at Dalian Wanda Group Co.’s new theme park and entertainment complex in China.

Imagine if in 1937, you had told someone that 80 years later Disney would be suing someone in China for dressing up like Snow White.  People would have rolled their eyes in disbelief.  In 1937 China was being invaded by Japan, and Snow White was the least of their concerns.

Exactly what sort of intellectual property is being defended here?  And what is the societal benefit from this property?  I suppose one could argue that without 80-years of intellectual property protection, Mr. Disney would have had no incentive to create lovable characters such as Snow White. Except that Snow White is not a Disney creation, the story was written by the Grimm Brothers in 1812 (and they might have been merely retelling folk tales.)

Did Disney pay the estate of the Grimm Brothers back in 1937, for stealing their idea to make a movie?  I don’t know the answer, but I can guess.

OK, so Snow White is not Disney’s intellectual property.  But maybe they should have property rights over the costume she wore in their 1937 film. But is the Chinese Snow White actually wearing that costume?

Screen Shot 2016-05-30 at 10.10.55 AM

Now let’s take a look at the Disney Snow White, from the famous 1937 film:

Screen Shot 2016-05-30 at 10.06.39 AMI see lots of differences. One has a tiara and the other has a red ribbon in her hair. One has a solid blue top and the other has a dark blue vest over a light blue blouse with red cross hatching. One has a red bow tie, and the other does not. One looks like a Western woman, the other looks Asian.  One is standing next to Captain America, while the other is surrounded by a bunch of animals.

Update:  Wikipedia describes Snow White as follows:

Some time later, the Good Queen gives birth to a baby daughter with skin as white as snow, lips as red as blood, and hair as black as ebony.

Notice that Wanda seems to have found the only young woman in all of China with hair than is not black.  (The non-ivory skin is a bit more excusable, but they could have done better with a young lady from Sichuan, where the skins tend to be very light.)

Even Disney seems to concede that this is not actually Snow White:

We vigorously protect our intellectual property and will take action to address infringement,” the company said in an e-mailed statement Monday in response to Bloomberg News queries about the characters, who resembled ones from Disney. “Our characters and stories have delighted generations, these illegal and substandard imitations unfortunately disappoint all who expect more.

So the social justification for this intellectual property is not to encourage innovation, or even to maximize the flow of money from Asian consumers to wealthy American corporations, but rather to protect the feelings of Chinese kids, who might be disappointed that this doesn’t look like the “real Snow White”, which doesn’t mean the Snow White of the Brothers Grimm, but rather the Snow White of Disney.  Obviously Chinese consumers who chose the Nanchang Wanda theme park over the Shanghai Disneyland would expect exact replicas of Disney figures at Wanda.

Since even Disney concedes that this girl doesn’t look like Snow White, what’s the actual claim here?  Perhaps Disney is claiming that any young Chinese woman wearing a blue top over a yellow skirt is engaged in an homage to Snow White, and should have to pay royalties to Disney.

But who first showed the beauty of the yellow/blue combo?  I’d say Vermeer:

Screen Shot 2016-05-30 at 10.37.57 AM

Or Perhaps Mondrian:

Screen Shot 2016-05-30 at 11.21.36 AM


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62 Responses to “Only Trump can protect us from Chinese Snow Whites”

  1. Gravatar of E. Harding E. Harding
    30. May 2016 at 07:41

    What’s the point of this post? That Disney keeps being Disney?

    BTW,

    http://www.politifact.com/new-hampshire/statements/2016/feb/07/marco-rubio/rubio-attacks-cruz-role-lawsuit-defending-chinese-/

    Make America Great Again!

  2. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    30. May 2016 at 07:47

    Harding, I would not expect you to understand, it takes an IQ of at least 115.

  3. Gravatar of E. Harding E. Harding
    30. May 2016 at 07:50

    Well, I estimate my IQ to be at least 10 points above that.

  4. Gravatar of Mike Rulle Mike Rulle
    30. May 2016 at 07:51

    Disney is a creepy company—let them whine and look stupid. They have managed to take one of my favorite hobbies, watching high level competitive sports, and intertwine it with superficial PC politics—thus ruining much of the fun of watching.

    Har har on Trump. Although he just might bring it up—and get 50 more votes for it.

  5. Gravatar of morgan s warstler morgan s warstler
    30. May 2016 at 08:21

    I know my iq is higher than yours Scott, so let me tell you what you don’t understand….

    China will BEND. Facing POTUS Trump, China will open its own markets and buy more shit from us bc they are hooked on supply side of free trade like crack… their financing and debt models require US consumption.

    And you don’t have the ability to look yourself or anyone else in the face and say, Obama and Bush did a great job negotiating with China

    You can’t look anyone in face and say, China wont throw Trump some concessions right quick just to give him his scalps.

    There are other forces coming to market… Uber4Welfare will snatchbback all the teleservice jobs that have left and gone to India. And having Americans answer the phone will make American happy again.

    Govt as a Platform is coming to market and it will end this GOP fixation with cutting entitlements, and end the fake accounting that allows union dues to fund Democrats with tax dollars

  6. Gravatar of AN AN
    30. May 2016 at 08:24

    You’re missing the point, Scott. It’s all about the RED, blue, and yellow in vertical juxtaposition in that particular order from top to bottom. Vermeer almost got it right: he even has RED lipstick (another point in your favor).

    But Vermeer’s vertical ordering is all wrong. Yellow, blue, red, yellow? Completely off-target and much too complicated. Humans are incapable of processing that much color information, and seeing such complication, automatically turn against its author. Maybe that’s why he died in debilitating debt.

    Mondrian returned towards a simpler vertical ordering, but he went too far. Reducing everything into yellow and blue misses the most sensually important color — red. It simply lacks empathy.

    Fortunately for modern society, Disney got it right. Without his ground-breaking contribution, we would be lost in either minimalist hell or maximalist confusion. And the only reason he did it was so that his grandchildren would be able to rent-seek. How dare you question his motives and the value of his contribution?!?!?

  7. Gravatar of Art Deco Art Deco
    30. May 2016 at 08:40

    What’s the point of this post? That Disney keeps being Disney?

    That everything that bothers him has now been pureed into a porridge.

  8. Gravatar of E. Harding E. Harding
    30. May 2016 at 09:11

    BTW, Lorenzo from Oz wrote a good post on the Donald and why smart people support him:

    http://lorenzo-thinkingoutaloud.blogspot.com.au/2016/05/the-rhetorical-appeal-of-donald.html

    Make America Great Again!

  9. Gravatar of Max Max
    30. May 2016 at 11:34

    Possibly 100% of Disney employees including the CEO agree with you, but it doesn’t matter. If they don’t act to maximize the share price, they’ll be replaced by people who will.

    We’re all gears in the machine of freedom, with no will of our own.

  10. Gravatar of Steve Steve
    30. May 2016 at 12:19

    I’m guessing that Walt Disney just ripped off the University of California.

    https://alumni.ucla.edu/ucla-history/ucla-history-traditions/

    Like those of the University of California, UCLA’s colors are blue and gold. The university’s colors were chosen to represent the state’s various attributes: Blue to symbolize the ocean, and local wildflowers. Yellow to reflect the Golden State, the California poppy and sunsets.

    These are the modern Snow Whites. They should sue Disney!:

    https://www.flickr.com/photos/34223707@N07/8611355431

  11. Gravatar of Mike Sax Mike Sax
    30. May 2016 at 12:25

    Is Trump a racist? Maybe, maybe not. But if he’s not he sure does have a lot of racist friends for a guy who’s not a racist.

    Some of Trump’s best friends are racists, white nationalists, and anti Semites

    http://lastmenandovermen.blogspot.com/2016/05/is-donald-trump-racist.html

  12. Gravatar of Steve Steve
    30. May 2016 at 12:37

    Also blue and gold was a popular color scheme in ancient Egypt, for the same reason: it symbolizes water and sun.

    http://museum-of-artifacts.tumblr.com/post/110274809512/the-second-coffin-of-tutankhamun-1336-1327-bc

  13. Gravatar of Mike Sax Mike Sax
    30. May 2016 at 12:56

    Scott his could be the best year for your libertarian party yet.

    “The comparison was inflammatory, to say the least. Former Gov. William F. Weld of Massachusetts equated Donald J. Trump’s immigration plan with Kristallnacht, the night of horror in 1938 when rampaging Nazis smashed Jewish homes and businesses in Germany and killed scores of Jews.”

    “But if it was a provocative analogy, it was not a lonely one. Mr. Trump’s campaign has engendered impassioned debate about the nature of his appeal and warnings from critics on the left and the right about the potential rise of fascism in the United States. More strident opponents have likened Mr. Trump to Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini.”

    http://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/29/world/europe/rise-of-donald-trump-tracks-growing-debate-over-global-fascism.html?

    I of course am one of these more strident opponents.

  14. Gravatar of E. Harding E. Harding
    30. May 2016 at 14:30

    “Scott his could be the best year for your libertarian party yet.”

    -I boldly predict that the libertarian party will get fewer votes this year than they did in 2012.

    Mike, you just don’t get this election. This is about Making America Great Again.

  15. Gravatar of nomenym nomenym
    30. May 2016 at 14:36

    Don’t know if this is true, but I once heard that one reason companies like Disney are overaggressive in cases like this is because, if they aren’t, the courts might hold it against them later. Basically, by taking action even in trivial cases, they establish a precedent that they really care about their IP, and so that more serious infringers can’t use the “but you let all those other people do it!” defence.

    Basically, if you own an IP, but don’t take any action to stop people from using it, especially for commercial ventures, then this could be construed as tacit consent. So when someone else comes along and uses the IP, you might be able to get them to stop, but you’re going to have a harder time claiming damages or whatever.

    Like I said, I have no idea if this is true, but I think I once heard it from Zenimax Media after they tried suing the creator of Minecraft because his new game was called ‘Scrolls’ something, and they already had a game called The Elder Scrolls. The whole thing was ridiculous, but somewhat along the way someone or other claimed that they had to take action or else it might make it harder to take action later against more egregious IP infringements.

  16. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    30. May 2016 at 14:43

    Max, You said:

    “We’re all gears in the machine of freedom”

    So freedom means the freedom to take away the freedom of others, using police powers?

    If you say so.

  17. Gravatar of Benjamin Cole Benjamin Cole
    30. May 2016 at 15:35

    Some people say there are serious issues of global intellectual property rights. Perhaps Disney is overstepping itself.

    When are intellectual property rights worth respecting?

  18. Gravatar of Lorenzo from Oz Lorenzo from Oz
    30. May 2016 at 17:13

    E Harding: “Lorenzo from Oz wrote a good post on the Donald and why smart people support him”
    Thanks, I think, though it is not quite what I said. Examining why some smart people who support The Donald’s rhetoric is what the post is about.

    Scott: Intellectual property is such a fuzzy concept, why not go for whatever you can get? Hopefully, enough “point and laugh” may reign in some of the excesses, but they are, alas, a fairly inevitable consequence of said fuzziness.

  19. Gravatar of Lorenzo from Oz Lorenzo from Oz
    30. May 2016 at 17:15

    That should be “examining why some smart people support The Donald because of his rhetoric”.

  20. Gravatar of Engineer Engineer
    30. May 2016 at 18:04

    Imagine some nameless, large Chinese company, financed by the Chinese government, taking your transcript that you backed up to the cloud, calling it the Gold Curse and selling copies all over the world in 10 languages at $3 copy and being powerless to do anything about it. Then having your publisher say…oh well…next time be more careful…

    I can look at your post two ways….one is a humorous look at the some of the problems with the intellectual property system that has needed reform for a while. The second is to belittle those with concerns about the large scale theft of intellectual property by the chinese, financed by their government. Such as documented in many reports and many investigations. Nearly all large companies in the US can document constant attempts to illegally get their intellectual property.

    http://www.cbsnews.com/news/60-minutes-great-brain-robbery-china-cyber-espionage/

    On the other hand, I really don’t see Disney’s actions as anything but normal and expected..why would two paid employees in a theme park dress in such ridiculous costumes. Of course they are posing as Disney characters….and why would Disney not try to stop it. If Carnival cruise lines had a boat with Mickey Mouse ears on the side and Disney characters on board they would be sued as well…

    Disney has spent billions of dollars creating a worldwide recognition of their characters…the Chinese can develop their own…

  21. Gravatar of Jon Jon
    30. May 2016 at 20:12

    Scott, Knew this was coming.

    http://www.breitbart.com/2016-presidential-race/2016/05/28/trumps-leadership-resonates-with-chinese-americans-political-correctness-isnt-a-thing-in-china/

  22. Gravatar of BC BC
    30. May 2016 at 20:47

    I’ll make the contrarian case here. I agree that IP, especially as it relates to brands, image, likeness, etc. is subjective, which makes it hard to define. That means that sometimes stuff that shouldn’t be protected is and vice-versa.

    I think in this case, though, I would side with Disney. Wanda’s intent is to portray Snow White, not some new character that Wanda created. Disney has invested much money in trying to promote Snow White, and Wanda is trying to free ride on that. One thought experiment would be to consider the case where Wanda used its own original characters in its theme parks instead of Disney’s. My guess is that the theme park would be less popular and/or Wanda would not be able to charge as much for admission. The difference in admission prices would be the market value of Disney’s IP. I don’t know whether IP law actually allows Disney to protect Snow White’s likeness in this case but, if it doesn’t, then that would be a flaw. An example of where IP law would go too far would be if Wanda actually did independently create its own character that happened to bear (unintentionally) some similarities to Snow White and Disney tried to exploit that incidental similarity. Obviously, distinguishing between copy-catting and unintentional, incidental similarity can be subjective, which is where the difficulty arises in defining IP.

    The social value is that people gain utility from the emotional satisfaction associated with certain entertainment brands, as evidenced by their willingness to pay premiums to visit theme parks populated by Disney characters relative to theme parks populated by generic characters. Firms will have less incentive to invest in creating such utility-enhancing brands if other firms can free ride on those investments. The investment includes not only the original creation of the character but the on-going promotion and branding to create and maintain the emotional satisfaction. If one doubts that there is actual value in the Disney characters and brands, then why wouldn’t Wanda just use some generic characters instead?

  23. Gravatar of Massimo Heitor Massimo Heitor
    30. May 2016 at 21:08

    A large rival theme park company uses Disney owned characters? Disney has a plausible case here. I sure won’t lose sleep either way, but there are better examples of IP laws gone crazy and more egregious cases of China violating IP law.

    I know Trump has made noise about China violating US IP, but that’s a weak link.

  24. Gravatar of Matthew Waters Matthew Waters
    30. May 2016 at 22:07

    Two forms of IP here:

    1. Copyright.

    Companies such as Disney have consistently lobbied for the copyright term to be extended, so that it is now an absurd length. IIRC, the term always happens to include when Walt Disney made Steamboat Willie, first film with Mickey Mouse.

    There isn’t really economic justification for copyright past 20 years. The owners of copyright today really want to preserve royalties from 1937, but the owners today aren’t contributing anything. It was contributed in 1937. No business calculation in 1937 would care about 2016.

    2. Trademark

    A Disney lawyer’s argument could go like this: “For our theme parks, merchandise, etc., the consumers would associate the Snow White costume with Disney the corporation. A non-Disney entity using the Snow White costume creates customer confusion and ultimately dilutes the Disney brand.”

    It’s still pretty thin. For Disney and consumers to be harmed, Disney would have to make official shows which they put a lot of work into. The consumers would have to honestly be confused by the non-Disney shows. Then Disney could decide not invest in the “true” Disney shows, because Disney wouldn’t be able to charge a premium as consumers think of the fake Disney shows and think the real Disney show will be shoddy like the fake shows.

  25. Gravatar of Matthew Waters Matthew Waters
    30. May 2016 at 22:30

    “I think in this case, though, I would side with Disney. Wanda’s intent is to portray Snow White, not some new character that Wanda created. Disney has invested much money in trying to promote Snow White, and Wanda is trying to free ride on that. One thought experiment would be to consider the case where Wanda used its own original characters in its theme parks instead of Disney’s. My guess is that the theme park would be less popular and/or Wanda would not be able to charge as much for admission. The difference in admission prices would be the market value of Disney’s IP. I don’t know whether IP law actually allows Disney to protect Snow White’s likeness in this case but, if it doesn’t, then that would be a flaw. An example of where IP law would go too far would be if Wanda actually did independently create its own character that happened to bear (unintentionally) some similarities to Snow White and Disney tried to exploit that incidental similarity. Obviously, distinguishing between copy-catting and unintentional, incidental similarity can be subjective, which is where the difficulty arises in defining IP.”

    I disagree here because you’re focusing on the harm to Disney rather than society’s utility as a whole.

    Snow White, in this incarnation, was created in 1937. Its creators should be rewarded. If Snow White was created last year and Disney owned the copyright, then there’s a very clear case for Disney to bar fake Snow White. If there was a fake Elsa from Frozen, for example, then there is a clear economic case for Disney to have exclusive right to make shows with Elsa. Disney risked a lot of money on Frozen.

    But the animators from 1937 probably don’t care about China in 2016. Disney still owns the copyright I’m sure, but there’s not a good economic argument for copyrights to last that long.

    For trademark protection, the ECONOMIC argument just seems really thin in this specific case. Chinese consumers are only harmed if Disney would have invested in theme parks much better than the knock-off theme parks, but they didn’t invest because customers wouldn’t know their much better theme park from the knock-off theme park.

    The legal argument is sound and trademark law is net positive economically. In this case though, I don’t see customer confusion being harmful.

  26. Gravatar of Matthew Waters Matthew Waters
    30. May 2016 at 22:37

    Also, I see you addressed how old the original investment is (1937) with ongoing investment in the brand of Snow White. It just seems thin to me.

  27. Gravatar of Thiago Ribeiro Thiago Ribeiro
    31. May 2016 at 05:07

    “I see lots of differences.”
    Come on, they clearly reproduced Disney’s costume as well as they could (that is, not particularly well). Look those sleeves and that collar, who else dresses like that? Just because my 2th grade class’school play had budget and sartorial talent that could only afford costumes made of used crêpe paper (in fact,the protagonist’s one looked suspectly like the one in the picture), it doesn’t mean we weren’t deliberately trying to rip off Disney’s intellectual property (rather our teachers were trying to do it, I doubt most of us had watched the movie by then). This is exactly the kind of cynical abuse that, transplanted to the international trade arena, has cost countless American jobs, has plunged numberless American families into the raging sea of despair and must therefore be curbed by all available means.

  28. Gravatar of brendan brendan
    31. May 2016 at 05:38

    Francis Galton predicted China would emerge from its “temporary dark age”.

    “The Chinaman…is endowed with a remarkable aptitude for a high material civilization. He is seen to the least advantage in his own country, where a temporary dark age still prevails, which has not sapped the genius of the race, though it has stunted the developed the of each member of it, by the rigid enforcement of an effete system of classical education which treats originality as a social crime. All the bad parts of his character, as his lying and servility, spring from timidity due to an education that has cowed him, and no treatment is better calculated to remedy that evil than location in a free settlement. The natural capacity of the Chinaman shows itself by the success with which, notwithstanding his timidity, he competes with strangers, wherever he may reside. The Chinese emigrants possess an extraordinary instinct for political and social organization; they contrive to establish for themselves a police and internal government, and they give no trouble to their rulers so long as they are left to manage those matters by themselves. They are good-tempered, frugal, industrious, saving, commercially inclined, and extraordinarily prolific.”

    Sounds about right.

    Of course that was part of an essay in which Galton was recommending that the Brits make it their policy to allow the Chinese to colonize the Horn of Africa.

    Whereas Scott would advocate the opposite as far as I can tell.

  29. Gravatar of Dan W. Dan W.
    31. May 2016 at 07:39

    In Lotus vs Borland the court decision was that Borland did not infringe Lotus’s IP when it imitated the user interface functions of the Lotus software. However, the courts have defended claims that the “look & feel” of computer program can be copyrighted. Meaning that the names of menu functions can be the same but the icons and colors must be different.

    Disney cannot prevent others from having a “Snow White” character, or any character for that matter not owned by Disney. Disney can dispute the similarity of the costume with the Disney creation, with one test being whether the Disney costume is original and another test being whether a person would be confused by the imitation. As might be expected with such subjective standards, these lawsuits are historically difficult and typically resolved outside of the courtroom.

    As mentioned by other commenters, corporations will flex their legal muscle on these things because they can and doing so helps widen the moat and protect their overall IP castle.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lotus_Development_Corp._v._Borland_International,_Inc.

  30. Gravatar of Thiago Ribeiro Thiago Ribeiro
    31. May 2016 at 08:29

    “Of course that was part of an essay in which Galton was recommending that the Brits make it their policy to allow the Chinese to colonize the Horn of Africa.
    Whereas Scott would advocate the opposite as far as I can tell.”-brendan

    In more honest words, dump the problem on the Africans. Meanwhile, America kept the Chinese out for almost a century– all in all, it was a great century. It doesn’t seem to have hurt America at all.

  31. Gravatar of Patrick R. Sullivan Patrick R. Sullivan
    31. May 2016 at 08:50

    And Snow White is actually Marge of Marge and Gower Champion fame. She was the daughter of one of Hollywood’s most famous dance instructors, and was his teaching model. She helped train, among others, Rita Hayworth, Cyd Charisse and Shirley Temple.

    One day she was told by her father, who was a friend of Walt Disney, that she had a job once a week to go to his studio and dance for him. Unbeknownst to her, the film of her performances was used as a template for Disney illustrators to draw the scenes for the movie.

    She didn’t learn this until decades later when one of the illustrators met her at a party and told her, ‘I’m glad I finally got to meet you after drawing you.’ She tells the story here;

    http://www.emmytvlegends.org/interviews/people/marge-champion#

    A very charming woman, still alive and dancing at 97.

  32. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    31. May 2016 at 09:08

    Ben, You said:

    “When are intellectual property rights worth respecting?”

    I’m not sure, but I’m sure that in this case they are not worth respecting.

    Lorenzo, I’m more interested in it from a public policy perspective. I think copyrights should be reduced from 100 years or so to more like 5 years. Then Snow White and Mickey Mouse are in the public domain. Disney can keep the Disney name as a trademark forever.

    Engineer, How much Disney spent is irrelevant. See my reply to Lorenzo. Public policy should reflect consumer interests, not business interests.

    Jon, I’ve never met a Chinese American who likes Trump, and I’ve met many who do not. But I agree that Chinese do not care for PCism, nor do I.

    BC, You said:

    “I think in this case, though, I would side with Disney. Wanda’s intent is to portray Snow White, not some new character that Wanda created. Disney has invested much money in trying to promote Snow White,”

    That’s not relevant, as I said to Engineer. And see my response to Lorenzo, I see no public policy interest in copyrights lasting more than 5 years.

    And recall that these are not Disney’s original characters, they are the Brothers Grimm’s original characters. Disney made a nice movie out of it, and deserves 5 years monopoly on that film. That should be plenty.

    Matthew, I agree, but I think even 20 years is way too long.

    Thaigo, You said:

    “This is exactly the kind of cynical abuse that, transplanted to the international trade arena, has cost countless American jobs, has plunged numberless American families into the raging sea of despair and must therefore be curbed by all available means.”

    I’m assuming you are being sarcastic, in which case I agree.

    Brendan, When I see the stupidity of the Trump supporters I grow ever more confident that I am right.

    Triago, You said:

    “Meanwhile, America kept the Chinese out for almost a century– all in all, it was a great century. It doesn’t seem to have hurt America at all.”

    Of course it hurt America. Pick some area where you think America did the wrong policy. I could retort “America did that policy that Thiago thinks is wrong for over a century, and it’s still a great country”

    No wonder you guys like Trump, you even think like him.

  33. Gravatar of Christian List Christian List
    31. May 2016 at 10:04


    Notice that Wanda seems to have found the only young woman in all of China with hair than is not black.

    Yes, yes. The first brunette in the world with a black hairline. It’s called hair coloring, Scott.

    And what’s up with the “than” all the time. Auto-correct?

    I agree that the actions of Disney in this and other cases are disgraceful. They should be ashamed of themselves.

    If only some of there movies weren’t that good. But I never bought anything from them personally in my entire life. At least not knowingly. So my conscience is still pure in this case.

  34. Gravatar of Christian List Christian List
    31. May 2016 at 10:06

    There there there. Blogs should have an edit function, too. Like for the first 5 minutes after you wrote something.

  35. Gravatar of Matthew Waters Matthew Waters
    31. May 2016 at 10:24

    Dan,

    I’m not familiar with Lotus v. Borland. Apple v. Microsoft said much the same thing. I think the decision says that a pixel for pixel copy isn’t allowed, but generally there isn’t IP protection on user interfaces.

    If IP cases are actually brought to court, the ultimate jury and judge rulings can actually be sensible. The recent Oracle v. Google verdict rightly said API calls were Fair Use. Apple v. Samsung eventually had most of the claims thrown out. IIRC, all claims by Apple and all but one claim by Samsung.

    But these crazy IP cases should really be squelched at the USPTO level for obviousness or by judges in summary judgement. The appellate court should supervise all patent cases in the East Texas court for proper venue, instead of waiting for disposition by a court with clear self-interest.

  36. Gravatar of Ray Lopez Ray Lopez
    31. May 2016 at 12:01

    Sumner opining about something he knows nothing about: monetarism, er, no, intellectual property. Sumner conflates what he thinks the copyright law should be with what the copyright law actually is. Truth is, the Disney infringers know perfectly well they are knocking off Disney characters, but will rely on connections and weak Chinese law support of the WIPO conventions to hopefully survive a legal challenge.

    In short, Sumner is clueless, again. And I have an IQ of 120.

  37. Gravatar of Thiago Ribeiro Thiago Ribeiro
    31. May 2016 at 12:44

    “I’m assuming you are being sarcastic, in which case I agree.”– Scott Sumner
    I am just saying that reproducing Snow White’s clothes is arguably not the worst thing the China has done to America in the field of business, but is yet another evidence of the game Beijing and its minions is playing. In their defense, my 2nd grade teachers were not trying to build an entertainment empire on and behind Disney’s (and America’s) backs. As pointed out above, there is a reason they stole a Disney’s character instead of, say, Brazil’s Monica’s Gang (the top Brazilian comics characters– have you ever heard of them?). They know how much more they can profit from stealing from Disney. As a bank robber is supposed to have said about his choice of targets,”because that’s where the money is.”
    “America did that policy that Thiago thinks is wrong for over a century, and it’s still a great country”–Scott Sumner
    Or at least, it sems, will be made great again. Lots of policies can be linked to bad consequences (even in a good century). Racial Segregation and the Prohibition for instance. Allowing foreigners to steal American jobs, depress American wages and undermine American cohesion, however, is a bad idea whose time has passed.

    “If only some of there movies weren’t that good”– Christian List
    Some of their movies weren’t that good. I liked the one that predicted this year’s election (The Lady and the Trump), Beauty and the Beast and Fantasia (kinda). Every other Disney movie I happened to watch was a huuuge disappointment.

  38. Gravatar of Carl Carl
    31. May 2016 at 12:55

    Ray:
    Thank you for posting your IQ at the end of your comment. I, otherwise, might have dismissed it as having missed the point.

    Scott:
    How did you come up with 5 years for copyright? Is that how long you figure a content creator needs to make a large enough profit to justify the investment risk? And, if so, what industry(ies) is that based on?

  39. Gravatar of Major.Freedom Major.Freedom
    31. May 2016 at 13:29

    Sumner wrote:

    ““We’re all gears in the machine of freedom”

    So freedom means the freedom to take away the freedom of others, using police powers?

    If you say so.”

    How else did you think the dollar system was upheld? I am going to assume you have a high enough IQ to understand that it is some taking away the freedom of others using police (more generally government, as it includes the FBI among other forces). Or maybe hypocrisy never was an issue.

  40. Gravatar of Massimo Heitor Massimo Heitor
    31. May 2016 at 14:55

    “I think copyrights should be reduced from 100 years or so to more like 5 years. Then Snow White and Mickey Mouse are in the public domain.”

    This is a rather dramatic radical departure from long-standing non-controversial convention and status quo and has almost nothing to do with China or Trump. There is some merit to it, but this is not remotely a well reasoned pro/con analysis.

  41. Gravatar of E. Harding E. Harding
    31. May 2016 at 15:57

    “When I see the stupidity of the Trump supporters I grow ever more confident that I am right.”

    -That Galton passage is really good. Shows that the distinctive characteristics of the Chinese emerged long before Mao. And Galton was pretty smart -not stupid. Brendan makes good points.

  42. Gravatar of Brendan Brendan
    31. May 2016 at 16:38

    Scott paints historical folks who believed in deep persistent ethnocultural differences as idiots, i.e. folks opposed to Irish, or Italian immigration. Sees them as dumb, utterly refuted, will be wrong again, etc.

    They existed but so did the Francis Galtons who got things basically right.

    That’s the point. History has vindicated the moderates like Galton, not the universalists.

  43. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    31. May 2016 at 17:09

    Christian, You said:

    “Yes, yes. The first brunette in the world with a black hairline. It’s called hair coloring, Scott.”

    Are you just pretending to be as clueless as Ray, or is this really you?

    Thiago, It was better when I thought you were just being sarcastic, not cowering in fear of the “yellow peril”

    Carl, It seems like 5 years is plenty of time for most books, music, films, TV, etc. I’m no expert on software, and would defer to others on that topic.

    Brendan, I’m going to give the the benefit of the doubt, and assume you are new here. I.e., that you’ve never read any of my posts pointing to the importance of culture, in explaining the economic divergence between say China and Afghanistan.

    You seem to be following a pattern of attributing beliefs to me that I don’t have, which eventually leads me to dump commenters in the “ignore” bin, with MF.

  44. Gravatar of engineer engineer
    31. May 2016 at 17:48

    “How much Disney spent is irrelevant. See my reply to Lorenzo. Public policy should reflect consumer interests, not business interests.”

    That sounds like something Hugo Chavez would have said….Snow White is Disney’s property, it is a registered trademark just like Mickey’s Ears…as long as they are using it and renewing it..it will last forever. It is a symbol that represents Disney, just like the checkmark on the Nike shoes….

    In my mind intellectual property rights are as important and fundamental as any personal property rights. Is it in the consumers interests that you are making a profit from your book? C’mon Comrade, please post the pdf version…

    Respect for property rights are the bedrock of the capitalist system. You can always find a consumer interest that could be argued that is more important. Take the American Superconductor case, you can argue that by stealing their patents and software, the Chinese were able to afford to put up more windmills and burn less coal, thereby helping the entire world. That reasoning nearly destroyed the world…

  45. Gravatar of Major.Freedom Major.Freedom
    31. May 2016 at 19:30

    Sumner wrote:

    “You seem to be following a pattern of attributing beliefs to me that I don’t have, which eventually leads me to dump commenters in the “ignore” bin, with MF.”

    Lol, no, the ignore bin for me is because of a pattern of me exposing the principles and presumptions of the beliefs you write about, which more often than not you are unwilling or unable to admit.

    The ignore function is merely your only way to prevent you from embarrassing yourself to other readers as to what I write.

  46. Gravatar of Major.Freedom Major.Freedom
    31. May 2016 at 19:31

    The girl in the photo was meant to look like Snow White.

  47. Gravatar of Major.Freedom Major.Freedom
    31. May 2016 at 19:55

    Brendan:

    Before you’re put in the ignore bin (which in my case is “can’t find fault but I don’t like it” bin), you may be put in the “name call and do not provide a substantive counter-argument” bin, like this one:

    I wrote:

    Serious question: What pride can there possibly be in getting a prize from a violence backed banking cartel? Maybe I’m old fashioned and thought something like this would be cause for shame and embarrassment. Guess the Bentley profs are doing a number on the impressionable students.

    The response is gold:

    https://www.themoneyillusion.com/?p=17692#comment-205619

  48. Gravatar of Thiago Ribeiro Thiago Ribeiro
    31. May 2016 at 21:51

    “Thiago, It was better when I thought you were just being sarcastic, not cowering in fear of the ‘yellow peril'”– Scott Sumner

    I am not American so I have little to fear from mass imigration. As I said, the Chinese aggressor knows where the money is. I also have little to lose from Americans being robbed through unfair trade practices.

  49. Gravatar of Carl Carl
    31. May 2016 at 22:38

    Scott:
    Do you think someone other than JK Rowling and Bloomsbury should be able to publish Harry Potter books?

  50. Gravatar of Lorenzo from Oz Lorenzo from Oz
    1. June 2016 at 00:39

    I am friends with a bestselling crime novelist. She is outraged at suggestions being floated around that someone can steal her major characters from her while she is still alive. I think she has a point.

    I am not sure where to draw the line (I am not sure there is a secure resting point). I would agree, however, that current US IP law is way too generous in its defining of IP.

  51. Gravatar of brendan brendan
    1. June 2016 at 04:07

    No Scott I’ve been enjoying your blog since 2008.

    It’s impressive that you respond to so many comments. Naturally you move fast. And sometimes you’ll err pretty clearly as a result – like you do here.

    I never ever accused you of believing culture does not matter. I know what you were working on before Summer 2008.

    Rather, you’ve claimed in various ways that history has utterly vindicated those who expected immigrant groups to assimilate to the US, and that implies that the restrictionists are still wrong, and the root of their error is some sort of unseemly discomfort with change.

    “Everyone, All the arguments you are using against Hispanic, Arab and Asian migrants were used against the Irish, Jews, and Italians in the 1800s. They can’t assimilate to Anglo Saxon society. The nativists were wrong then, and you’ll be wrong again.”

    The crux is how persistent cultural difference is.

    Galton shows that a smart guy who believed persistent group differences were likely was making sophisticated, nuanced, arguments 140 years ago.

    Let me copy and paste what I said that you somehow interpreted as me accusing you of believing culture does not matter.

    “Scott paints historical folks who believed in deep persistent ethnocultural differences as idiots, i.e. folks opposed to Irish, or Italian immigration. Sees them as dumb, utterly refuted, will be wrong again, etc.

    They existed but so did the Francis Galtons who got things basically right.

    That’s the point. History has vindicated the moderates like Galton, not the universalists.”

    Also, in your post you sorta ask “who woulda thought China would do so well”. And I say: Galton did. So you call me an idiot. lol, ok.

    You’re still my favorite macroeconomist though.

  52. Gravatar of brendan brendan
    1. June 2016 at 04:30

    MF, I find the Austrians to be kinda crazy, at least on macro, and some of the moral absolutism, so I sympathize w/ Scott there, even though I’d be happy to appoint David Friedman dictator of the USA.

    On the other hand, Scott says you’re a dogmatic ideologue. One of the things I’ve always admired about Scott is that, far as I could tell for awhile, he was about is rational as they came (this side of human utility calculators like Robin Hanson).

    But I guess everyone has a blind spot, and Scott is showing his on immigration. Not because he has the “wrong answer” – utilitarianism + declining MR of wealth makes immigration a good even if it’s quite bad for the host. But because all the best arguments against certain types of immigration are outside the bounds of what professors are allowed to safely think, and so he doesn’t grapple w/ them. That’s obnoxious, I know, but it’s the truth.

  53. Gravatar of Who Will Save Disney Co. From Chinese Snow White? | Western Free Press Who Will Save Disney Co. From Chinese Snow White? | Western Free Press
    1. June 2016 at 04:57

    […] This article first appeared at the Money Illusion. […]

  54. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    1. June 2016 at 17:00

    engineer, You said:

    “That sounds like something Hugo Chavez would have said”

    No, it’s what we were taught at the University of Chicago, the most free markets economics program in the US. Free markets means free, not set up to help protect business from competition.

    You said:

    “Snow White is Disney’s property, it is a registered trademark just like Mickey’s Ears”

    I have no idea if this is true, but it’s obviously an outrage if it is.

    You said:

    “Is it in the consumers interests that you are making a profit from your book? C’mon Comrade, please post the pdf version…

    Respect for property rights are the bedrock of the capitalist system.”

    These are such moronic arguments that I don’t know why I even bother responding. But I will. No one disputes the value of property rights, the question is what should be regarded as property? The Brothers Grimm wrote Snow White. Please tell me why it should be Disney’s property?

    As far as my book, I make virtually no profit from 20 years of work. In any case, I already said I think book copyrights should last 5 years—don’t you pay attention?

    Carl, I’ve already answered that question—yes, after the copyright runs out in 5 years.

    Lorenzo, You said:

    “I am friends with a bestselling crime novelist. She is outraged at suggestions being floated around that someone can steal her major characters from her while she is still alive. I think she has a point.”

    I think that’s completely insane. She can still write books and copyright her own books. Presumably her fans would rather read her version than someone else’s. But if the copycat is just as good then it’s a public service, the fans get to read even more versions of her stories.

    What matters is consumer welfare, not the producer welfare.

    Brendan, You said:

    “Scott paints historical folks who believed in deep persistent ethnocultural differences as idiots”

    Why would I believe that I am an idiot?

  55. Gravatar of RN RN
    2. June 2016 at 11:49

    “I see lots of differences.”

    You truly are delusional. A Trump-worthy remark.

  56. Gravatar of Carl Carl
    2. June 2016 at 12:09

    Scott:
    I asked again because the five year claim starts to sound absurd to me when you look at examples like Harry Potter. Sorcerers Stone would be in the public domain before Deathly Hallows was written.
    Consumer welfare is an ill-defined concept. Immediate consumer welfare may be best met through looting, longer term consumer welfare by incenting producers properly. Are you more likely to have a better selection of fantasy literature in the long run if you protect JK Rowling’s copyright for her lifetime or if you allow free PDFs of Sorcerers Stone after five years. I say the former. (Just so you know, that was a rhetorical question. I’m not asking you to answer the same question three times.)

  57. Gravatar of Engineer Engineer
    2. June 2016 at 18:47

    Please tell me why it should be Disney’s property?

    Yes, I know about the Brothers Grimm….First of all there is a big difference between a trademark, copyright, and a patent. Disney made the argument in 2013 that with all the work they had done with this character that it was synonymous with the Disney brand and they could have a trademark. They have no copyrights to any works of literature. It is a interesting case…that you can read about on-line. Personally, I believe that they made a pretty good argument and USPTO agreed. It has yet to be challenged in court and could easily be overturned if someone really wanted to challenge it.

    “These are such moronic arguments that I don’t know why I even bother responding”….the comments about your book were obviously tongue in cheek remarks…I think you deserve every dime you make on your book and should have a copyright for the rest of your life……

    To me, that photo of the Chinese Snow White encapsulates every negative stereotype about the Chinese. What is good for consumers? Consumers worldwide and the Chinese themselves would benefit if they spent more of their energy creating and inventing on their own and less of it trying to copy the west. Is the world so starved to creative minds that it has to fight about Snow White? Does China really need theme parks with knock off Disney characters? If the cost of challenging a trademark is high enough, perhaps they may get more creative on their own.

    As I stated there are some aspects of the patent system that I think need some reform. Software patents are in most need of reform and I was very happy to see that Google won their case over Oracle over the use of Java. In technology, when so much innovation rests on the previous work of others, the patent system can easily go from encouraging innovation to discouraging it.

  58. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    3. June 2016 at 12:39

    Carl, Even with just 5 years protection, Rowling could have probably earned hundreds of millions of dollars. Those books all sold extremely well within the first 5 years.

    And if not 5 years, then how long? Certainly the current copyright system is excessive.

    You said:

    “Are you more likely to have a better selection of fantasy literature in the long run if you protect JK Rowling’s copyright for her lifetime or if you allow free PDFs of Sorcerers Stone after five years. I say the former.”

    I’d say that far more people will get to enjoy high quality fantasy literature if it’s 5 years. Either way she had more than enough motivation to write those books.

    Engineer, You said:

    “Consumers worldwide and the Chinese themselves would benefit if they spent more of their energy creating and inventing on their own and less of it trying to copy the west.”

    The Chinese are plenty creative, many of the greatest films of the past 30 years have been made by Chinese directors. In any case, Americans consume lots of folk literature made in other countries, especially Europe, so do Latin Americans. There’s nothing special about the Chinese liking European folk tale characters, they are popular everywhere in the world.

    I’m not sure what you mean by “trademarks”. If you mean something like an abstract drawing of Mickey’s ears, I’m fine with that being a Disney trademark, but other companies ought to be able to make Mickey Mouse movies, the original films are 80 years old, or more. However they should not be able to market them as Disney films.

    You said:

    “I think you deserve every dime you make on your book and should have a copyright for the rest of your life……”

    I don’t, I think it’s absurd to claim I should have a copyright that runs for my entire life. I won’t live that long, but some people live over 100 years.

  59. Gravatar of Massimo Heitor Massimo Heitor
    3. June 2016 at 13:56

    @Engineer,

    “To me, that photo of the Chinese Snow White encapsulates every negative stereotype about the Chinese. What is good for consumers? Consumers worldwide and the Chinese themselves would benefit if they spent more of their energy creating and inventing on their own and less of it trying to copy the west.”

    This is absurd.

    What is good for customers when Disney pays new teams to “copy” IP like Snow White for new products or or amusement park attractions? Of course it’s good for customers, that’s why they pay for it.

    Disney has a legal monopoly on using Snow White, and that benefits Disney, but it would benefit larger numbers of consumers if competitors could legally use Mickey Mouse and Snow White.

    The argument for weakening copyright protection is strong. I’m tentatively convinced, however there may be better counter points I haven’t thought of. The Trump reference is still a stretch.

  60. Gravatar of Carl Carl
    3. June 2016 at 22:04

    If anything, the wild financial success of Harry Potter books and movies created a huge supply of copycats as publishers, movie producers and authors tried to replicate her success. I’d expect it to be that way. If Rowling got a patent on stories involving wizards and children, it would end up stifling supply. But she didn’t. She got a copyright which only protects her particular implementation of a story about wizards and children and there are infinite possible implementations of that kind of story.
    Given that you can’t really stifle supply of story implementations, that wildly commercially successful works of art create more copycats than do moderately financially successful ones, I don’t think you can make the argument for reducing copyrights to five year’ on the grounds that it will improve the supply of art.
    The argument then for shortening copyright boils down to making a particular work of art free so more people can enjoy it. My feeling about that is suck it. If you’re not willing to pay the artist for what she created, regardless of how rich she may have gotten, then too bad. Go read a work by some dead artist.

  61. Gravatar of engineer engineer
    5. June 2016 at 06:25

    OK, I’m starting to feel like I’m on the Trump tweeter account..after being called Moron and an Idiot..but…I will go for more punishment…

    1) This is not about consumers..it is about the richest man in China trying to put a knife into Disney on his home turf.
    2) Trademarks protect consumers from cheap imitations. When I buy a Rolex I expect quality Swiss timepiece…not a cheap (yes make in China) knockoff. It is all about branding.
    3) Stereotypes are a hard thing to kill once they become entrenched in people’s minds. One stereotype of Chinese business is IP thief (if you don’t believe me ask a ardent Trump supported).
    4) IP protection is not much of a barrier to innovation. The cost of the legal system as a barrier to protect it is high. Disney has a weak trademark on it’s Grimm based characters that covers amusement parks. It is not international, so they really have no case in China. We tried to prosecute a case in my old company…after a lot of money on lawyers it went no where.
    5) I am sure that China has plenty of characters to choose from in their long civilization…why not use these and create your own brand? The one thing India has over China is Bollywood…I really don’t see any equivalent.
    6) The self life on most textbooks is very short…you don’t have a copyright on the ideas…only the text. If people buy the arguments in the MIdas touch, they will be every economics book and your book will be yesterday’s news within a couple of years. If not, then few will be interested in five years anyway.

  62. Gravatar of engineer engineer
    5. June 2016 at 16:20

    Sorry, that should have been “Midas Curse” and Shelf life….

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