How You Helped Pave Main Street, USA


New at Reason: For many of us, Walt Disney Co.'s greatest crime is that the copyright extension the company lobbied for a few years back will prevent Stanley Elkin's The Magic Kingdom from becoming a movie for another generation or two. But as RiShawn Biddle demonstrates, Michael Eisner has always been a genius at imagineering government largesse.

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  1. Don’t feel too horrible; both the E.U. and France have heavily subsidized Euro-Disney (a failure business-wise from the start). Hmm, shall I visit the Louvres (or the Prado, etc.) or Euro-Disney while I am on vacation?

  2. Disney is a member of some outdoor recreation organization that includes things like snowmobiling companies. They helped push the Forest Service to start requiring “Adventure Passes.” $5/day or $30/year to visit some FS lands. Some have claimed this is a Disney attempt to Disneyify FS properties. While I’m sure the pravo libertarians would welcome paving the forests, perhaps someone could look into this. Was this conspiracy true, was it an Eisner thing, and will the new regime do things differently? If you don’t know what I’m talking about, try this search.

  3. Good article. I’d like to see more corprate bashing from Reason. Good counter examples for when libertarians are accused of being ‘pro big business’. A chance to illistrate to the Naderites, “yes we agree, corprate welfare and coruption are evil” but we have a better solution than Ralph’s “Just put me in charge of everything and I’ll take care of it. You won’t have to worry about a thing”

  4. While I’m sure the pravo libertarians would welcome paving the forests

    I don’t know what the modifier “pravo” means. But you’ve been around long enough to know that libertarians welcome privatizing forests. If the owners want to pave them over, we don’t have a problem with that. But we also believe that private owners will prove better stewards of preservation than politicians.

  5. Having grown up in Anaheim, I have to say I shed a tear when the strawberry field finally sold to Disney and paving the way for DCA. Thank God that monstrosity’s a flop.

  6. Must remember preview.

  7. “I don’t know what the modifier “pravo” means”

    It’s like “puro,” only 20% more snarky.

    “If the owners want to pave them over, we don’t have a problem with that.”

    This is in line what the Libertarian Purity test. 98% of U.S. citizens would consider some of the ideas from that test repulsive, and likewise with letting the new owners of Yosemite convert it into Disney’s Northern California Adventure. That’s not to say that our Gummit is great, just that some things like national defense and the environment need to be protected.

  8. Way to miss the point wacko.
    I”That’s not to say that our Gummit is great, just that some things like national defense and the environment need to be protected.”
    and private owners would be better at protecting them

  9. The trees that is. We agree that defense is a legitimate function of government.

  10. There are two distinct issues in RiShawn?s piece, corporate welfare and copyright. I’m all for bashing Disney, and especially Eisner?it is difficult to forget his support of Clinton’s proposed tax increase while disposing of his options prior to the enactment of the same tax increases he supported (don’t get me started…) but, all those grievances are really not central to the copyright issue, which boils down to a simple concept. One either owns what one creates or one doesn’t.

    I realize that, Constitutionally, copyrights and patents are considered to be on lease from the government to the creator for a certain number of years after which they fall into the public domain and become everyone’s property (or nobody’s), a position I find a little inconsistent with classical liberal thought.

    Unquestionably, Disney used its corporate muscle to retroactively change copyright law, and even for those who agree with limits on copyright protection, Disney?s manipulation of congress just sucks, because it changes the rules ex post facto.

    On the flip side, nobody can argue about who created Mickey and then handed the rights over to Disney Inc. Irrespective of popular clamor to see Song of the South one more time (Disney won?t budge on a re-release), Mickey remains Disney’s property, and as libertarians tend to argue, using unsavory means to protect what is rightfully your own isn’t necessarily immoral (despite that it is almost guaranteed that morality never crossed Eisner?s mind).

    Strip away all the political influence buying, the sleazy local politics, and the corporate welfare, all of which are mitigated in the minds of the bureaucrats somewhat by the fact that Disney generates huge tax revenues for the City of Anaheim and the County of Orange (Ca), and the inescapable conclusion is that Disney acted to protect its property.

    This isn?t about the common good or whether culturally we are better off when works pass into public domain. It isn?t just about Eisner sleazing across home plate with a bag of taxpayer cash; it is also about you and I. We either own the property or we are the property.

  11. Warren, shouldn’t we be happy that everyone is getting what they want through judicious outsourcing? Shareholders get bigger returns, locals get jobs and cheaper access to attractions, since the company won’t need to charge as much. Taxpayers already subsidize infrastructure as businesses expand/close/relocate, so how is that any different?

  12. but why is this article dated 2002?

  13. Was that $550M bond issued by voter referendum? Was Disney the only beneficiary of the “revitalization,” or did the whole community benefit? If it was a bond (i.e., a loan,) then isn’t it true that the taxpayers are ultimately net out-of-pocket only for the interest, not the principal?

    You see where I’m going with this. The phrase “city fathers … fork over” sounds a lot more sinister than, say, “voters approved an X% bond.” I’m no Disney fan, and I’m ready to believe that a $550M “revitalization” may well have been a boondoggle, but I think Biddle may have been a bit too glib here. Makes me wonder whether the rest of Biddle’s article deserves closer scrutiny by Reason’s editors.

  14. If Disney wants to keep their ideas private forever, they can make each viewer sign an appropriate contract and pay for enforcement through civil courts. If they want to go the far more profitable route, they can agree to the copyright terms and get special government protection of their creation. Of course, the second doesn’t work all that well when they can simply bribe Congress into retroactively changing the term of the copyright contract every 20 years or so.

    It’s not like when Mickey Mouse goes public domain the newer versions that I’d imagine most of us think of as “Mickey Mouse” become free to use by everyone. The Steamboat Willie design would be first, and Disney would still have a trademark protecting their use of the rodent.

  15. …”and the inescapable conclusion is that Disney acted to protect its property”… There are fundamental differences between physical property and intellectual property. When one violates physical property it would be trespassing, whereas violating intellectual property can be otherwise known as “communicating”. Now I apprecate and believe that copyright law is justified, but it’s very nature restricts communication. Congress is trying to squeeze out innovation through capitalism. The extention adds value to copyright, an 50 year lease on a piece of property has been raised to 70 years, for economic reasons. With the Internet maintaining any semblance of its current state, copyright law is about as frightening as smoking marijuana at Disneyland.

  16. Mo, you say that “Copyrights are for a creator to profit and protect his creation, not so that his children and grandchildren can milk his legacy.”

    That is pretty much the argument used by proponents of estate taxes. After all, your children didn’t create your wealth why should they milk your legacy by inheriting it?

  17. Re Disney, Sonny Bono Act and extentions to copyrights.
    Yes, I’m sure that Disney did campaign for this. Certainly they have benefitted. Yet no one seems to be looking at the background.
    Copyright protection was different in different countries. When the EU started working on the Single Market it became quite clear that there would have to be a rationalisation across jusridictions. This led to a series of laws across the EU in the late 1980’s. The UK one was in 1988 for example ( this is the same Act that gave Peter Pan perpetual copyright).
    So then the question became what should that common number be ? 50 years as in the UK ( and most other Anglo Saxon nations ) ? Or 70 years as in Germany ?
    The German standard prevailed.
    So, by 1989 / 1990 the entire EU had a 70 year copyright standard.
    The expansion of the net, increased trade and digital rights …..all militated in favour of further rationalisation across jurisdictions. There was and is a good argument that whatever the rights associated with copyright, they should be similar in different places ( so with other forms of IP as well ).
    OK, so the US passes the law in 1998. Did Disney benefit ? Of course. Lobby ? Surely .
    Disney solely responsible ? No way. The worst one can say is chief domestic cheerleader for a global trend.

    Tim Worstall

  18. I have lived in the Orlando area, home of Disney World, for about 14 years, so I’m familar with Disney’s political and economic moves.

    Disney uses the local, state and federal government in so many wonderful, creative ways.

    For years Disney World has attempted to stop small, single engine sightseeing planes and helicopters from flying over the property. The sprawling park does look pretty impressive from the air and many tourists pay to see it that way.

    Most recently, under the guise of national security, Disney convinced the FAA to declare the park a “no fly zone” for small aircraft.

    Instead of paying a small airplane pilot $69 to see the park, you’ll have to pony up $208.00 to Disney for admission.

  19. Biddle writes “… [Disney] got the [Anaheim] city fathers to fork over another $550 million on new roadways …” Sounds like a typo. Does Anaheim really have a budget that big? Please provide a link or a citation.

  20. Why bash corporate welfare? They are just doing everything possible to maximize shareholder value. It’s just outsourcing (expenses). They would be neglecting their responsibilities if they were to pay for something they could get someone else to pay for.

  21. TWC,
    That’s all fine and dandy about Disney owning Mickey, but they profited from the same public domain rules that they pressured Congress to extend. The Walt Disney Corporation didn’t invent Cinderella, Pinnochio, Sleeping Beauty, etc. Those are public domain stories that they made their own. They have a pipeline of Mickeys that are copyrighted later and later. Copyrights are for a creator to profit and protect his creation, not so that his children and grandchildren can milk his legacy.

  22. That $550 million was the ultimate cost of a bond issue that paid for the city’s revitalization project around Disneyland. So the ultimate cost due (not including interest) will come due years down the line.

  23. hoof,
    We don’t blame the corporations for taking free money. We blame the pols that hand it to them.

    Re: copyrights,
    I’m against them. We should scrap the whole system. Art and literature don’t need them to thrive. Look at the fashion industry.


  24. “private owners would be better at protecting [trees]”

    Are you kidding? Ever seen an orange stream (New Idria, CA)? Maybe these are all just media lies, but I tend to have a negative image of things like Bhopal, Love Canal, Chemical Alley, and all the other once and future SuperSites.

    Sure the FS, NPS, BLM, and state agencies make occasional big mistakes and sometimes get drunk on their own power. However, they’re certainly better than letting private owners do anything they want with their land. Because, it affects the rest of us even if we live miles and miles away.

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