Monday, September 14, 2009

The mouse that slipped

Since Disney has been in the forefront of fencing off, and aggressively policing, its share of the "intellectual" (read "imaginary") property landscape, it's a delightful thing to see someone else setting the legal dogs on Walt for a change.

Story: the Pixar lamp - which we all know from the credits to every decent movie Disney has made in the past 20 years - is, in fact, a design made by a Norwegian company called Luxo. When Pixar was a little up-and-coming animation house, it made a (very) short film about such a lamp - Luxo Jr - which impressed the heck out of everyone who saw it. The lamp in Pixar's logo is a tribute to that short.

And that was well and good, and everyone was happy.

In 1999, Luxo Jr was released as a short alongside the immodest hit Toy Story 2. And that, too, was well. Toy Story 2 went on to gross a quarter-billion dollars at the US box office alone - or, in Hollywood terms, about the price of admission for a family of four with popcorn and soda. (It was also the cause of a falling-out between Disney and Pixar, but that was swept under the carpet when the Mouse finally bought out the Lamp a few years later.)

And that, too, was fine and large.

But the Toy Story franchise is worth a hefty fortune not for its movies, but for its merchandising, which now ranks second only to Winnie the Pooh among Disney's most profitable brands. And Toy Story 3 is being released next year, and Disney is gearing up the publicity for that right now. And against that fevered background, some genius at Disney looked at the lamp, and thought: "We've never tried making one of those."

So they did. Calling it the "Luxo Jr".

How a company as lawyer-infested as Disney failed to check, first, that they could get away with this - will probably always remain a mystery. But this month came the news that Luxo has issued a writ against Disney for trademark infringement. Seems they didn't agree to the deal, and now they're accusing Disney of marketing shoddy versions of their product with their name attached.

On the face of it, it's an open-and-shut case. It's a textbook example of just the sort of thing trademarks are supposed to prevent.

The only question is: will Disney put its hands up to a fair cop? Or will its Achillean hubris make it fight for the principle that US-based media companies are the only ones who can rightfully be said to "own" intellectual property?

My money is on Option 2.


HiStandards said...

Ah, this is the vet writing that drew me in. Loved this. LOVED this! I'll be looking for the outcome to the story. Great write, great read.

vet said...

Golly... I didn't know you shared my obsession with intellectual property. Thank you, HS.