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Ruminations: Unauthorized Disney theme park DVDs are a very bad thing ...

Ruminations: Unauthorized Disney theme park DVDs are a very bad thing ...

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You may recall earlier in the summer, I reviewed the latest Disneyland souvenir video on DVD. At it's best, this two-disc offering was a repeat of a number of previous videos and had little more to do with the Park's "Happiest Homecoming" festivities than making note of the 50th anniversary on the packaging. All the more the shame... Because there are many memorable moments that these discs should have covered.

During my days in Anaheim in both May and July, I saw many people who were capturing moments all over the Resort with their digital home video cameras. From attractions to parades to character meet & greets to the night time shows around the parks, there is more than enough subject matter to take video of. With the rise in the quality of images in this particular niche of personal electronics and the reduction in prices, it is not surprising that so many people are taking advantage of this technology to capture everything about their days at Disneyland.

Whether guests made use of the Brownie Hawkeye, the Kodak Instamatic or those first Beta cameras and portable video tape recorders (yes, there was a time when you carried both individually!), capturing those special moments to share at a later time with family and friends has become a tradition for many guests.

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However, it seems that an increasing number of guests have taken a bigger step. That is into the production and distribution of their own videos to the general public. These videos may not be up to full broadcast standards. But some are rather well done. Using video equipment just below professional, they may offer a good quality image and state of the art sound. The design of the packaging is almost professional as well. Some have gone beyond just a simple video and offer a menu based DVD product similar to that of many professional products, including Disney's own DVD titles.

Check eBay for some examples. Here is a basic search for Disneyland DVD. Among the listings, you'll find a number of titles for sale covering a wide selection of Disneyland. While there are official Disney produced DVD's among those listings, the majority of DVD's for sale are what the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) loosely refers to as "bootleg" discs. In simple terms, the person(s) producing and selling these discs do so without the permission of the copyright holder.

And yes, that means these are being done without the permission of Disney. Looking over the item listings on eBay and the web pages for the producers of the discs, there is no text that I can find with any mention that anyone has been given any license to manufacture or distribute these products.

To me, it is a very clear matter. If you do not own the rights to something or have not been given specific rights to reproduce something, you should not do so.

Here is a quick copyright basics offered by the US Copyright Office:

WHAT IS COPYRIGHT?

Copyright is a form of protection provided by the laws of the United States (title 17, U.S. Code) to the authors of "original works of authorship," including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and certain other intellectual works. This protection is available to both published and unpublished works. Section 106 of the 1976 Copyright Act generally gives the owner of copyright the exclusive right to do and to authorize others to do the following:

  • To reproduce the work in copies or phonorecords;
  • To prepare derivative works based upon the work;
  • To distribute copies or phonorecords of the work to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership, or by rental, lease, or lending;
  • To perform the work publicly, in the case of literary, musical, dramatic, and choreographic works, pantomimes, and motion pictures and other audiovisual works;
  • To display the copyrighted work publicly, in the case of literary, musical, dramatic, and choreographic works, pantomimes, and pictorial, graphic, or sculptural works, including the individual images of a motion picture or other audiovisual work; and
  • In the case of sound recordings, to perform the work publicly by means of a digital audio transmission.

The way I see this, Disneyland does fall within the scope of "original works of authorship". The performances of parades or fireworks at any of the Disney theme parks can be certainly be considered "choreographic works."

Let's remember something. You pay a fee for admission to private property to experience those "original works". In return for that fee, Disneyland provides you with a "terms of use" for a specified period of days. (Check out these of the Disney web pages for a sample of a "terms of use" statement.) I think it is a safe bet that those "terms" may grant an individual permission to take photographs or video - but for personal use only.

Make no mistake. Disney must protect it properties. A major part of what makes Disneyland so special for many guests is that it is unique. If that were not the case, it would not have survived this long.

Like any major corporation, Disney makes a concerted effort to protect its copyrights. It has and continues to be a force in shaping national and international copyright protections. Outgoing CEO Michael Eisner has on a number of occasions made strong statements (including several appearances in front of Congressional committees) about the company's commitments to protecting those rights, including the issues created by new consumer digital reproduction technology. The company is well known for relentlessly defending its trademarks and copyrights. In one well-publicized incident, they took steps to see that three daycare centers in Florida removed images of Disney characters displayed on their walls.

Over the years, the legal system has ruled that copyright holders must forcefully defend their properties. If they do not, the risk is to lose them. They would become part of the public domain. That would end profits from those copyrighted materials.

Perhaps more than any other entertainment company I know of, Disney is very active in combating piracy -- especially when it comes to its own entertainment library. With video sales accounting for such a large portion of the company revenues, they can do no less.

But in another sense, I find that these discs fail to show respect. Not only for the copyrights held by Disney, but for the people who made and continue to make Disneyland possible. From the Imagineers who bring the concepts to life to the Cast Members who do their best in so many roles every day (especially those performers in such efforts as "The Parade of Dreams") to the management team -- all are is committed to providing the best possible experience for every Guest.

To make a profit from the work of these people, no matter the size, shows a lack of respect for everything that they do. Even though their labor may fall into the "work for hire" category, they still produce "original works of authorship" as they bring Disney magic to life for Guests every day.

Holding the legacy of the last 50 years special must be more than just words. It must be respect for the time and efforts involved by everyone who makes it possible.

"Guest" cannot be simply a word or a title for another customer. It is a philosophy; one in which respect for your host has a major part. Call me old-fashioned, but I believe that sincerely. If I did not have such respect as a Guest for the Disneyland experience, I doubt I could enjoy it as much as I do.

And perhaps, that is why I feel as strongly on this subject as I do. Sorry, but to me, those DVD's are just wrong...

For the record, Roger Colton does not hold any shares of Disney stock or have any interests related to the Disney Company. The opinion expressed is strictly his own.

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