Flying question for copyright lawyers

Gigsoc logoThis week’s newspapers bring us yet another Disney movie scenario of ‘plucky little community group’ being faced down by ‘horrible international conglomerate’. But this time, there is no happy ending for the little group; and the conglomerate are Disney themselves. As Ruadhán Mac Cormaic reports on the front page of Wednesday’s Irish Times (picked up by, grand gesture,,, and

With only two days to go before its opening night, a play to be staged by a gay and lesbian students’ society at NUI Galway had to be pulled yesterday after organisers received notice from entertainment conglomerate Disney threatening legal action if the production went ahead.

It seems that the play was “loosely adapted” from the Disney film Sister Act, and that that Disney took the view that the production “would breach its intellectual property rights”. Presumably, this means that it would, in particular, infringe their copyright in the movie. My flying question is whether that is actually so? I have already on this blog referred to the differences between the broad ‘fair use’ exception to copyright under US law and the much narrower ‘fair dealing’ exception under Irish law. It seems to me that this dispute falls into that difference: the transformation in the loose adaptation of ‘Sister Act’ may very well constitute ‘fair use’ under US law (as parody does) but would certainly not constitute ‘fair dealing’ under Irish law. Do others who read this blog share this perception?

An assertion of copyright is sometimes an assertion that the copyright material simply cannot be used. That might happen for literary reasons, for example, but it is relatively unusual. A commercial firm owning a copyright usually sees it as an asset to be exploited for revenue; and in such a case, an assertion of copyright is not so much an assertion that the material cannot be used as in effect a demand for payment for a licence to use it. I wonder whether Disney and their lawyers intended their letter to be in the first category or the second?

I leave the final word to IPKat:

The IPKat is disappointed that Disney has missed out on what might have been an excellent opportunity to teach the students at Galway a good deal about the benefits of copyright, if it had handled this episode in a less heavy-handed manner. As it is, the company has left a group of potential friends and allies in a state of mutinous distress over copyright law. Irrelevant fact: Disney last year had 133,000 employees, Merpel notes – twice as many people as live in metropolitan Galway.