By Brian Brecker
Elm Staff Writer
One may enjoy the centrality of all the intellectual property under Disney because they have so far managed these properties well. However, once CEO Bob Iger is replaced, Disney will still be the only company allowed to make Marvel, Star Wars, Indiana Jones, or even Muppets properties.
Why bring this up in regards to Mickey Mouse? The Walt Disney Company, which is already the majority shareholders in the entertainment industry, is moving towards a merger with Twentieth Century Fox, another rival multimedia entertainment corporation.
One may say that this is merely business, and others of the geekier sort would likely look forward to Disney ownership of Fox, causing Fox’s Marvel properties to revert and get reintroduced to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Seeing the X-Men team up with Spider-Man is not worth letting one company monopolize the entire blockbuster scene. Of the top 10 grossing films of 2017, four were owned by Disney: “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” the second film in the newly revamped “Star Wars” trilogy, following the 2012 buyout of Lucasfilm by Disney. “The Last Jedi” grossed an astonishing 1.3 billion dollars.
The live-action remake series of “Beauty and the Beast” was the second highest grossing film, bringing in $1.2 billion. The Marvel Cinematic Universe, the blockbuster juggernaut that will never die, had three films released in 2017, two grossed in the top 10 of the year. Of the top ten highest grossing films worldwide in 2017, Disney made 42.9 percent of the profits, a total of $4.3 billion.
There was a reason why anti-trust laws were put in place. The growing influence of large conglomerate corporations controlling all avenues of production strangled competition and led to lacking economic vigor. The quality of product was no longer important because the market was captured by a set of interests. Milton Friedman, a noted free market economist, interprets the market as a game following certain rules, and part of those rules for him means the breaking up of monopolies to make way for a truly free market with competition.
Anti-trust legislation promises that “Every contract, combination in the form of trust (organization of business interests with near monopolistic market power) or otherwise, or conspiracy … is declared to be illegal.” The law cannot hold if it is not enforced or selectively enforced. Imbedded in this unwillingness perhaps is the notion that the arts are not as important a market for regulation as, for example, the technology industry. This belief may prove fatal to the already stifled competition in big budget movie making.
The last notable instance of anti-trust law blocking a merger was the attempted AT&T–Time Warner union, which is still being battled in court. But, Disney has long had connections to government power.
Disney was the major lobbying force behind the Copyright Term Extension Act, which allowed their company to hold onto intellectual properties which should have gone public domain under the older law. Works made before 1978, like “Star Wars: A New Hope,” X-Men, and Planet of the Apes, would hold their copyright for 20 years past the author’s life, plus 75 years. You can be sure Disney will never let these properties go public domain or give their toys to anyone else to play with that don’t abide by the Mickey agenda. The end result of this would be a rotting of blockbuster competition over the next several decades.
The prospective of political interference with the merger is low. As we have seen with the monopolization of the cable television industry, local energy companies, and the online behemoth of Google which has recently faced fines in the E.U. for anti-competitive practice, the United States government is not very keen on addressing these growing monopolies.
There is an incorrect belief that monopolies are an archaic form of capitalism taken in the 19th century. What people fail to realize, though, is that monopolies are the logical end-form of the corporation which focus heavily on risk and cost reduction. There is no risk your product will be rejected if it has no active competition, and what better way to reduce costs than to own every facet of production?
The best way to stop a monopolizing company from getting too influential is to set legal limits. The Mouse looms large over the film industry, and unless actions are taken to slow this media takeover, Disney may attempt to capture the market entirely.
Art provides culture with a richness and liberation desperately needed in our micromanaged world. To allow the vehicle of film for reflection and discussion to become dominated by a single corporate entity, would result not only in a suffocation of innovation but of creativity and imagination itself.
I suppose we’re left with the question, “Is that what Walt would have wanted?”