As an author and artist I was appalled by Dan O'Neill's disingenuous rationalizations for plagiarizing Disney ("Disney's War Against the Counterculture," December). His arguments seem to be: If someone creates something that is immensely popular, they abdicate their rights to it; if someone creates something that has a special resonance for O'Neill, they abdicate their rights to it; and if a corporation he deems too large owns something, they abdicate their rights to it. The bottom line is that O'Neill was trading on someone else's creativity and originality–if not the Disney company, then the artists and writers who work for it. Would Air Pirates have been as successful if he had not used names and characters that were already well-known and popular?
The whole issue sounds very David-and-Goliathish, the struggling independent comic artist vs. the Disney behemoth, but how would the entire matter look if O'Neill had decided to trade upon the efforts of, say, Charles Schulz, Mort Walker, or Hank Ketchum, issuing his own versions of Peanuts, Beetle Bailey, or Dennis the Menace under those same titles? Whatever legal rights he may or may not have had, or believes he had, O'Neill certainly didn't have the moral right to do what he did.
King George, VA
In 1972 I was asked to submit a sworn deposition in the Air Pirates case. "In order to communicate an irreverence toward the Walt Disney characters," I stated, "the original form must be imitated to provide the most effective vehicle of reaching the consciousness of the audience and hopefully causing them to question the one-dimensional infallibility of Disney's fairy-tale world. For any government to imply otherwise would be to foster brainwashing. In Sao Paulo, Brazil, a city official in charge of a campaign to exterminate rats said that public support for the program was adversely affected by the popularity of Mickey Mouse among children. It is in the highest tradition of a free society to encourage the testing of conflicting ideas in an open marketplace; the comic books in question, therefore, are classic examples of artistic responsibility in action."
In 1967 I published as a centerfold in The Realist and distributed as a poster The Disneyland Memorial Orgy by Mad artist Wally Wood. The Disney Corporation considered a lawsuit but realized that I functioned financially on a proverbial shoestring, and besides, why bother causing themselves further public embarrassment? They took no action against me, though when the poster was pirated, Disney sued the pirate, and the case was settled out of court.
The Center for Constitutional Rights represented the Chilean co-authors of How to Read Donald Duck in a battle with Customs. There was a law that if material came in through Customs which officials thought violated a U.S. copyright, they could freeze the material and force the importer to fight for its release. The book was an analysis of the capitalist ethic in Disney comics, illustrated with hundreds of strips. The case was won by proving that the reprinting was necessary fair use in order to comment on them.
In 1983 the Canadian artist Carl Chaplin created Wishing on a Star postcards for free distribution. They depicted Disneyland being blown up by a nuclear bomb. Disney attorneys threatened legal action, demanding possession of the cards. Chaplin said, "If Uncle Walt were alive, he would know that I did the painting to point up the horror of what could happen to all of mankind in a nuclear war." He turned over all the remaining postcards. Ironically, as a result of the lawsuit, that image was sent over the UPI wire and seen by millions who would otherwise have remained unaware of its existence.
In 1989 Disney lawyers arranged to have white paint splashed over the "innocent delightfulness" of Disney characters on murals at three day care centers in Florida. They were replaced by Yogi Bear, Fred Flintstone, and Scooby Doo. Yet another Mickey Mouse decision.
And in 1992 Britain's official artist for the Persian Gulf war, John Keane, got in trouble for his painting depicting Mickey on what looks like a toilet with a shopping cart of anti-tank missiles nearby and a background of shattered palm trees. A Disney spokesperson said they were considering legal action against possible copyright violations. The artist said the idea came to him in Kuwait City, in a marina used by the Iraqis, where he found a Mickey Mouse amusement ride surrounded by feces.
Desert Hot Springs, CA
Biased About Bias
Nix to Matt Welch's attempt to cloud the issue of media bias ("Biased About Bias," December). Bias in news reporting is still out of control, and we should keep hammering at it.
Consider media treatment of the term "assault weapon" vs. "partial birth abortion." Both terms are linguistic ploys concocted by advocates to prejudice public debate. "Assault weapon" isn't a term used by firearms makers; "partial birth abortion" isn't used by abortion doctors. The press embraced "assault weapon" and uses it freely. "Partial birth abortion" never appears in news stories without a journalistic disclaimer.
Russell B. Garrard
Regarding "Indefensible Internment" (December), a reviewer should check the facts. Eric Muller writes, "While Lou Shimizu and Joe Takahashi sat in desert camps, Lou Gehrig and Joe DiMaggio played baseball."
Gehrig had already died on June 2, 1941, and was playing baseball on the Elysian Fields, if anywhere, after Pearl Harbor. DiMaggio did play a full season in 1942, but did not play again until 1946, having served in the military, along with a number of Nisei draftees of the same generation.
Muller's point is well-taken. It's his rhetoric that needs work.
Albert S. Kirsch
Bal Harbour, FL
Eric Muller replies: Kirsch is correct. I must have misread Gehrig's stats.
Correction: A review of the book The End of Faith ("Among the Nonbelievers," January) stated that the suicide bombing tactic originated with "the Malaysian communist guerrillas known as the Tamil Tigers." In fact, it began with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, a Sri Lankan separatist group.