Welcome back to “Ask TPU” where I answer your questions about themed entertainment, attractions and life. Jason in New York writes in to ask: “What happened with the big Deadmau5 vs Disney dispute? Did either side cave in? Why does Disney even care about some DJ anyway?”
I’ll do my best to explain what happened and where it stands, Jason. In September 2014, Disney filed a motion with the U.S. Trademark Office to stop a Canadian DJ known as Deadmau5 (pronounced “dead mouse”) from trademarking his signature ears. Deadmau5, whose real name is Joel Zimmerman, goes around the world as a very successful DJ while wearing his signature helmet that is in the shape of a mouse’s head.
Before you think Deadmau5 is some flash in the pan celebrity because YOU have never heard of him, let me remind you that his net worth is reportedly in the neighborhood of $45 million. He’s been wearing this mouse helmet on stage since 2008, even sells merchandise with the image on it and has been seen in movies and television shows for years now. He’s hardly a flash in the pan.
Disney has been aware of Zimmerman’s signature look for years as well. According to paperwork filed by Zimmerman regarding this case, Disney was working with him to resurrect Fantasia in October 2013. As part of the deal, Deadmau5 would have created and performed new music for the film in a concert-style event all over the country, including the Hollywood Bowl. In addition, he was also on tap to re-mix the Star Wars theme for a show on Disney XD called Star Wars Rebels. After the folks creating Rebels found out about the dispute, they backed out of the deal.
So what’s all the hubbub about? While the actual head Zimmerman uses to perform with contains very unfocused eyes and a strange smile, the real rub comes in the form of the silhouette. When placed side by side, the ears logo Disney uses and the one Deadmau5 uses are fairly similar and therein lies the problem. According to a tweet Zimmerman posted after Disney officially put their legal team started taking action to protect their logo, “Disney thinks you’re stupid” because Americans might not be able to tell the difference between a Disney product and his.
While the stupidity of Americans can always be up for debate, Disney has always been overly protective of their main Mouse and for good reason. Many companies believe that by challenging your trademark every once in a while, it ensures you get to protect it from other people coming in and using it, or something similar to it, and potentially making money off of your brand.
This isn’t the first time Disney has stepped up to bat to ensure the brand is intact. In 1981, a bar in Colonie, New York named “Mickey’s Mousetrap” was forced to change its name because Disney felt people could confuse it with a Disney product. Keep in mind that the “Mickey” in this case referred to the first names of the two owners of the bar, not the Mouse. Regardless, Disney won not because the court ruled in their favor, but because the tiny bar didn’t have the money or time to fight Disney, so they ultimately caved.
Copyright issues could take literally years to battle in court, thus we may not hear an answer about this for quite some time. Even though Deadmau5 is worth millions, the lawyer fees it will take to keep this running would cost him quite a bit. In addition, he is countering to Disney saying they used one of his songs, “Ghosts n’ Stuff,” as the soundtrack for a video created for Disney.com in what they call a “Re-Micks.” That’s where they take new music and splice them together with classic Disney cartoons.
Disney says the song was properly licensed before the video was released, but has since taken it down from the site most likely due to the pending copyright issues. Often times the licensing rights to a musician’s songs are not handled by the artist, but rather the label and sometimes their agent. It would make sense for Deadmau5 not to know his music was licensed to Disney for a web video, since it didn’t require anything directly from him to obtain said license.
Is Disney being a bully to Deadmau5? It depends on how you look at it, I suppose. On the one hand, if you think there is no chance that anyone, including a child, could pick up a Deadmau5 merchandise item with that silhouette logo and even consider that it came from the Walt Disney Company? They have a case. If his brand and logo are clearly distinguishable and there is no reasonable connection between his logo and Disney’s? He’s good to go.
It’s also worth noting that by now Mickey Mouse should be in the public domain and the Disney Company shouldn’t have ownership of him anymore. The Corporate Term Extension Act basically extended the life of a copyright than the previous laws on the book. Prior to the “Mickey Mouse Protection Act,” copyrights would last the life of the author plus 50 years or 75 years if it is a corporate authorship. Thanks to the new Protection Act, it extends to the life of the author plus 70 years and for works of corporate authorship to 120 years after creation or 95 years after publication, whichever endpoint is earlier.
This means that Mickey is safe for now, but not forever and Disney will no doubt be going to Congress again to try and either change the law to permanent ownership or extend it again. Regardless, Disney is extremely protective over that Mouse. Your thoughts?
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